Business Administration Education Guide

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Don’t Work Yourself To Death

It can happen, it did happen to Kenichi Uchino. Kenichi Uchino collapsed and died on Toyota’s factory floor before dawn in February of 2002, he was into his fourth hour of overtime. That fourth hour was only four of the more than 106 hours of overtime, most of it unpaid. In his final month at the Toyota car plant he died from sudden heart failure at just 30 years old.

A district court ruled that Kenichi Uchino had literally worked himself to death. after almost six years of legal battles his widow, Hiroko won the battle while holding down her own job and raising two young children.

In Japan, workers are too often expected to sacrifice their personal lives and happiness for the company's benefit. So common place is this practice that there is a Japanese word for this -- 'karoshi', a household Japanese term meaning 'death from overwork'

"Until now, all this unpaid work has contributed to Toyota's 2 trillion yen ($18 billion) profit. As Toyota continues to grow, I hope it will return some of it to its workers. That would make it a true global leader," Hiroko Uchino said.

In Kenichi Uchino’s final week, Uchino was on the second shift at the Toyota factory, which builds the popular Prius hybrid model. According to his widow, he had a heavily overloaded work schedule and a lack of labor to help him. This usually meant that he wouldn’t get home until after 6 am which by that time he would be too exhausted to finish his breakfast or play with his children.

Hiroko Uchino, who said she was probably the first to speak out in public against Toyota on the 'karoshi' issue, accused Japanese media of being reluctant to give Toyota any negative press, fearing repercussions on advertising revenues.

"One regional paper refused to print Toyota's name, only calling them 'a carmaker in the Nagoya area'," she said. "Another magazine also refused to disclose the company, and when I saw the issue, the back cover carried a Toyota ad."


Leaving The Rat Race

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