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Behind Dentsu’s plans to cut overworking in Japan after employee suicide

Dentsu reassures staff on its rules around overworking

Dentsu has sent a message to employees to reassure them about new measures it will put in place to try and curb a culture of overworking.

The company is responding to a tragic employee suicide, which saw Dentsu’s headquarters in Japan investigated by the Tokyo Labour Bureau after ‘overworking’ was cited as one of the causes of the tragedy.

The Japanese have a term for death caused by overwork - 'karoshi'. Many firms in Japan have rules in place to stop karoshi, while the Japanese government has stepped in to examine its causes and how it can be curbed. However, it's proven hard to change cultural traditions in the workplace. An opinion piece this week by the Financial Times Tokyo correspondent Leo Lewis outlined the issues the country would need to overcome if it is to break from tradition.

To that end, Dentsu is making its own rules clearer to employees. A message sent to staff from the holding group's president Tadashi Ishii reassured that specific measures, both existing and new, will be enforced and that discussions would be held with labour unions to make the reforms needed to protect the physical and mental health of employees.

Key points from the message include:

  • The company will reduce the monthly maximum overtime work from 70 hours to 65 hours fixed under a labor-management agreement. The change is effective from 1 November but many management executives have been instructed to apply the rule sooner.
  • Employees who joined the company in April 2016 (new graduates) cannot be asked to work the additional overtime under the special provision clause, during November and December 2016.
  • Working after 10pm is prohibited in principle, according to Dentsu, and employees are instructed to go home. All lights of the office will go out from 10pm to 5am.
  • Dentsu has also stressed that remaining in the office for personal reasons, such as self-development and private investigation, is prohibited. Those employees who want to use the office out of hours need to log their request and get it signed off by senior management.
  • Dentsu will also ask employees to manage overtime work on a daily basis, which is currently a monthly task.

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