This project examines Japan’s changing corporate structure and work practices and analyzes the “culture of overwork” by shedding light on the physical/psychological repercussions of long working hours on employees. Japanese employees have been known for their strong work commitment, and work-life balance has long been a challenge. This culture of long working hours was part of the postwar social contract of employment whereby employees received employment security and livelihood wages that protected workers and their families. While issues of overtime are nothing new, there is increasing awareness of workplace hazards and harassment as socioeconomic ills, including exploitative work practices by so-called "black enterprises”, “in-house unemployment,” as well as rising cases of “death from overwork.” These issues have raised public consciousness about working hours as well as workers’ well-being. Despite Prime Minister Abe’s “working-style revolution” to revitalize the workplace, in reality Japan’s overwork culture has changed little. Thus, this timely study explores how the previously-valued postwar practice of working long hours has transformed into a post-bubble “pathology of overwork,” and how employees are wrestling with these issues.
Through ethnographic research at 3 companies, combined with interviews and comparative analysis, this project analyzes the “threshold between overtime and overwork” to identify the relationship between changing working conditions and workers’ well-being. Ultimately, this study will uncover the economic, social, and psychological effects on workers and offer strategies for mitigating overwork and improving workplace well-being. This micro study of the inner struggles of Japanese workers will offer a vital comparison for other societies grappling with growing workplace instability and alienation, thereby making a crucial intervention into policy debates on labor reforms and opening new avenues for critical engagement between theories of work, well-being, and global capitalism.