Incorrect: Working Hard Never Killed Anyone

The saying “Working Hard Never Killed Anyone” is often offered as an excuse by management encouraging workers to work insane 50, 70, 80 hour weeks for no overtime pay but there is clear evidence that overwork can damage the organisation you work for because you’re likely to make more mistakes and spread illness to others, have negative effects on your health or even kill you.

nothing satisfies like work - frame from movie AntZ

In high school I did a few weeks work experience in several organisations. One old employee told me some really useful advice while pointing at a sea of cubicle workers .. activity and being busy doesn’t mean a person is getting any useful work done but it is an effective way to avoid catching the eye of a manager for slacking off!

Employees who don’t take take holidays can also be really bad for a company, not just because it means the employee could quit at any time and get their leave paid out in cash but because being at work everyday makes it easier to commit fraud. It nearly killed french bank Société Générale when one of it’s employees committed long term fraud costing them €4.9 billion.

Presenteeism is also a big problem for organisations and the people who work in them. Have you ever gone to work even though you were really sick or suffering from a severe emotional shock? That’s presenteeism.

Health insurer MBF explains why presenteeism is bad for everyone:

Presenteeism is defined as the lost productivity that occurs when employees come to work but as a consequence of illness or injury are not fully functioning. Presenteeism is largely thought to arise through fear of loss of income or employment. Employees that work when ill are more prone to injury and, if contagious, increase the risk of passing on an illness to other employees.

Judging workers by the number of hours worked and what times they arrive and leave at work rather than their productivity eg: tasks completed, profitability improved etc can lead to a culture of unhealthy overwork.

Japan’s rise from the devastation of World War II to economic prominence between 1945 and 1975 was not without human cost. People cannot work for ten or twelve hours a day six and seven days a week, year after year, without suffering physically as well as mentally.

But during the first three postwar decades no one paid any special attention to the larger than usual number of men in their 40s and 50s who died of brain and heart ailments, most often from acute cardiac insufficiency and subarachnoid hemorrhage.

It was not until the latter part of the 1980s, when several high-ranking business executives who were still in their prime years suddenly died without any previous sign of illness, that the news media began picking up on what appeared to be a new phenomenon.

This new phenomenon was quickly labeled karoshi (kah-roe-she), or “death from overwork”, and once it had a name and its symptoms were broadcast far and wide, it just as quickly became obvious that Japan was experiencing a virtual epidemic.

Business Week recently reported that Anxious Japanese Are Working Themselves to Death:

It will take more than an improved economy to alleviate the underlying reasons for Japan’s growing army of stressed workers. Many attribute Japan’s high suicide rate—which topped 30,000 in 2008 for the 11th consecutive year, more than double the U.S. rate—and increasing number of mental illnesses among workers to restructuring carried out during Japan’s “lost decade” in the 1990s. But as the economy recovered, and grew steadily between 2001 and 2007, leaner companies put more pressure on workers, while wages failed to keep pace with rising corporate profits.

For sure, the culture of hard work, even when it risks worker health, runs deep. One government survey found that nearly 90% of workers say they didn’t even know what the term work-life balance meant. And 4 out of 5 say they would cancel a date if asked by a superior to work overtime, according to a poll by the Japan Productivity Center for Social-Economic Development, a Tokyo think tank.


11 responses to “Incorrect: Working Hard Never Killed Anyone”

  1. “One government survey found that nearly 90% of workers say they didn’t even know what the term work-life balance meant.”

    Disturbing. No wonder suicide rates are so high in Japan.

  2. This new ethos of you are lucky to have a job, no pay rises, we may not pay you overtime it will end up shooting companies in the foot. Employees become stressed they know they are treated like machines. I have stronger feelings and plenty of stories however I have got to go to work.

  3. We are considered lucky to have jobs. It doesn’t matter if working kills anyone or not. All I know is working put the food on the table. 😀

  4. Working puts food on the table,…but if you are not happy at work, even working overtime will drive down your overall performance. You must always be happy and enjoy what you are doing for your work to be beneficial to the company!


  5. I used to be one of the 100 hour work we champions, but with six kids I was missing way too much life. I make considerably less money now, but couldn’t be happier about it.

  6. No one works as good as when they’ve had a couple of days off. Too many hours can stress you out, make you unhealthy and totally affect your home life.
    I luv your cartoons, great article.
    Thanks for sharing

  7. Great article! I guess this is why my work place stresses we NEED to take our vacation days.

  8. I’m proud to say I’ve never been asked if I’m “working hard” or “hardly working”.
    Cool blog

  9. I agree with the content of this article. There are workaholics out there who literally kill themselves….over what? Usually a promotion of some sort. I have seen both individuals in the corporate world as well as small business owners literally run themselves in the ground. It is nice to have money, but you should be able to enjoy your life too. Balance is the key!

  10. Working smarter is always better than working harder. I used to work 70 hours a week to pay my bills. Now I work 30-40 and make 3 times as much. It’s true employers will say this to “brainwash” employees into thinking this is just a fact of life.

    Never again….. learn to work for yourself, and be free from the pscho babble being fed to you when people say working hard never killed anyone. That may be true, but stress, anxiety, and fear does kill, and overworking yourself causes all of these things.

  11. There’s nothing wrong with working hard and efficiently, but some people loose track of what its all about. You work to live…. not live work. Thats my philosophy anyway!

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Related Articles