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Dying for work

Posted on 08-19-2015 Posted in Mental Health - 0 Comments


The Japanese word Karoshi means death from overwork. According to a 2014 article in Red Pepper magazine, more than10,000 Japanese die a year from overwork. And it’s believed that of the country’s 30,000 suicides annually, 8,000 are work-related. These are terrible statistics, but they pale in comparison to the number of work-related deaths in China. In China, deaths due to overwork are called guolaosi. Bloomberg News reported in 2014, 600,000 Chinese died from overworking. China Radio International claims that 1,600 Chinese die every day from overwork.

Mao parties on: Chinese workers vying and dying for the great reward

China, too, has a long tradition of working its people to death. Mao Tse-Tung’s Great Leap Forward may have dragged China into the 20th century but it came at a cost. It is estimated between 20 and 43 million people died as a result of Mao’s attempt to industrialize the nation.

Mao’ legacy lingers. Chinese workers are still taking one for the team— specifically, the Party. Bloomberg News reports on one such case. A 48-year-old banking regulator who, according to his boss, “always put the cause of the Party and the people first,” died while trying to complete a work report at dawn. In addition to the Party, Chinese workers have a new task master: capitalism. In 2014, China’s gross domestic product was second only to the United States. The average Chinese worker now believes in the prospect of prosperity. According to a report by Business Insider, 326 million Chinese will swell the ranks of the middle class between 2014 and 2030.

A Western construct: Workaholism

Media did not attribute these deaths to workaholism. In the Western press, these were just examples of how cultural values can go terribly awry. A 26-year-old Chinese man who worked for a company that assembles Apple products died after working 12-hour days for weeks at a time. The reason? He was getting married and felt he could not turn down the overtime — which was voluntary. And while it’s possible to make an argument that fear or economic need can be a provocation of workaholism if they drive an individual to work to death; the standard definition of workaholism identifies it as a compulsion. According to a medical source, a workaholic is “a person who manifests a compulsive need to work, even at the expense of family responsibilities, social life, and health.”

There are no hard statistics on how many workaholics are in the workforce. The Daily Recruiter reported the following statistics:

  • 34 percent of American adults don’t use their vacation days.
  • 55 percent of marriages where at least one spouse is a workaholic end in divorce.
  • Individuals working 11 hours a day or more suffer from 67 percent chance of coronary heart disease.
  • A Huffington Post informal poll found that 60 percent of respondents spend 20 minutes or less eating lunch and 75 percent eat lunch at their desks three times a week.

Workaholism as an addiction

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition—DSM 5—does not list workaholism as a disorder. There is debate in the medical community whether workaholism is a real addiction. But there must be something to it; it has its own 12-Step program.

Workaholics Anonymous—WA—functions the same way as Alcoholics Anonymous and other 12-Step programs. There are meetings and literature and support groups. Step One of WA differs slightly from AA in that workaholics admit they are powerless over work. The literature section contains the following on how WA works:

“We are learning that we can never get enough praise, money, or get enough accomplished to truly feel good about ourselves; that workaholism is a disease, and, like all other addictive diseases, it is progressive and fatal if not arrested.”

Symptoms and treatment

US News and Reports lists the following signs that a person might be a workaholic:

  • First to arrive and last to leave the office
  • Works through every lunch hour
  • No interests outside work
  • Experiences stress when not at work
  • Takes no time off
  • Constantly thinks about work
  • Shows up to work even when sick
  • Hides work from family
  • Never says no to the boss
  • Will never admit to being a workaholic

Any person who derives his self-worth and value exclusively from his job has his priorities out of skew. If you are such a person, you need to ask yourself why work is so important, to the detriment of everything and everyone else in your life. Addictions have different catalysts but manifest similarly. Call Sovereign Health Groups Fort Myers, Florida facility to learn more about addiction and what you can do about it. We can help.

Written by Darren Fraser, Sovereign Health Group writer

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