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The present article is concerned with some of the human factors involved when overtime and overwork become part of the regular and accepted pattern of work, with sometimes tragic results. While the "economic miracle" of Japan can be much admired, it has not been without human cost. Only recently, national and global attention is being focused on a new and deadly phenomenon in Japan: "Karoushi," which the Japanese define as "death from overwork," and which I choose to re-define as "stress-death" related to feelings of helplessness. It is my tentative hypothesis that "karoushi" is not directly caused by overwork, as popularly assumed. Rather, I believe that overwork is only one factor, and that stress-death is actually caused by the cumulative, long-range effects of working in a situation where one feels trapped and powerless to effect any change for the better, which in turn leads to attitudes of hopelessness - attitudes which are exacerbated, rather than ameliorated, by environmental and managerial factors.
Journal of Business Ethics © 1993 Springer