Head of Japan's Dentsu resigns over employee's "death by overwork"

A female job seeker takes part in a job hunting counseling session with advisers during a job fair held for fresh graduates in Tokyo, Japan.
PHOTO: Reuters

The president of Dentsu Inc , Japan's top advertising agency, said on Wednesday he would step down in January over what the government has deemed the "death by overwork" of a 24-year-old employee.

"It is extremely regrettable that we could not prevent overwork by a new recruit... In order to take full responsibility, I would like to resign as president at a board meeting in January," Tadashi Ishii told a news conference.

Mr Ishii said Dentsu and a company employee had been referred to prosecutors by the Japanese labour ministry's Tokyo labour bureau on suspicion of violating labour standards law.

It has not been decided who will replace Ishii as president, a Dentsu spokesman said.

Last December, Matsuri Takahashi committed suicide after having clocked 105 hours of overtime in October and fallen into depression the following month. The labour ministry this year ruled her death "karoshi", literally "death by overwork", and raided Dentsu offices.

Watch out for these signs of depression

  • Distancing themselves from friends and loved ones
  • Sleepiness
  • Constantly overworking
  • As long as it does not interfere with their daily functions, such as taking care of the kids or themselves, leave them alone.
  • Smoking more cigarettes
  • Extreme dieting
  • Non-drinkers who begin drinking daily may not be consuming high amounts of alcohol but are unable to relax unless they do so.
  • Does a friend who is usually in control of their emotions begin frequently displaying bursts of anger?
  • Take notice when someone starts moving away from things that were healthy for them, such as spending a healthy amount of time with friends or exercising, to doing nothing, for over a year.
  • These are some extreme statements of failure that can be a cause for concern for friends and family members and should be taken seriously.
  • Some of the things that we would normally shrug off, such as loud noises or children laughing, seem to create extreme distress for the individual, showing that the person may have too much going on in life.
  • "If this person suddenly starts giving away their personal things and is happy doing it - please beware. "That is not a good sign," said Dr Anasuya, adding that it could be a sign of suicidal tendencies.
  • Sometimes, no matter how much one tries to offer support or advice to a loved one, their words have no effect on the depressed individual.
  • Helpers need to know when to take a step back or may end up becoming depressed themselves.

Mr Ishii's resignation comes as Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is pushing a wide-reaching campaign to reform Japan's employment laws, which could include tighter overtime regulation for companies.

Article 36 of Japan's labour code leaves overtime pay and limits to the discretion of employers and typically benign unions.

Hard work and sacrifice have long been synonymous with Japan and strong social expectations make it difficult for employees and unions to aggressively push for reforms.

Workers often feel a debt of gratitude for being hired, and are reluctant to quit even if conditions are bad. Others feel they have to work longer hours than their colleagues to get promoted.

In recent years, the government has revised labour laws to encourage shorter working hours, but critics say these steps relied too much on self-regulation.

Read also: One in five Japan employers faces worker's 'death from overwork': Report 

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HELPLINESSamaritans of Singapore (SOS):1800-2214444Singapore Association for Mental Health:1800-2837019Sage Counselling Centre:1800-5555555Care Corner Mandarin Counselling:1800-3535800

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