GLOBAL BRIEF: Japan’s admen feel the strain - A suicide has highlighted the dangers of over-work, Michael Fitzpatrick writes

Dentsu, the world’s largest agency, along with smaller Japanese shops, is finding to its cost that the long hours required of its employees can actually kill.

Dentsu, the world’s largest agency, along with smaller Japanese

shops, is finding to its cost that the long hours required of its

employees can actually kill.



A recent high court ruling in Tokyo rejected Dentsu’s claim it held no

responsibility for the suicide in 1991 of an employee, Ichiro Oshima,

24. The high court upheld a previous ruling that Oshima suffered from

depression caused by exhaustion resulting from extraordinarily long

working hours.



The court heard how Oshima regularly worked past 2am for half the

week.



Most overtime shifts went on until after 6am. The remarkably resilient

Oshima went back home only to change clothes. In July 1991, he finally

snapped and told his boss: ’I wake up after only two hours’ sleep; I

cannot function any more as a human being.’ And so it went for thousands

in the ad industry with no-one batting a sagging eyelid - until now.



For years, large influential companies have been able to flout the

labour laws because of the influence they have over the Japanese

Government.



Following the suicide at Dentsu, the Government hasn’t come down hard on

agencies but it has put pressure on them to introduce overtime pay.



The Government, the unions and the agencies are acutely aware of how

difficult it will be to stop Japan’s labour-intensive ad industry

working itself to death.



Hakuhodo, Japan’s number-two shop, is a typical unreconstructed

company.



It is still a top-heavy organisation with numerous layers of senior

management.



A large number of these old men, however, are neither managing nor

producing much, so their paycheques drain the agency’s cashflow, causing

a shortage of labour on the account executive level.



Agencies are afraid legislation will force them to cut employees’ hours

(which often range from 100 to 160 hours per month on top of the daily

eight-hour grind) and make them uncompetitive. Until the implementation

of such laws, Japanese adfolk can at least comfort themselves with the

knowledge that the coming overtime payments will ensure them a decent,

if premature, burial.



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