Japanese employees work so much that drones will soon intervene

Droning on and on.
Droning on and on.
Image: Reuters/Toru Hanai
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A quarter of Japanese companies have workers clocking more than 80 hours of overtime a month, a statistic that contributes to the increasing alarm around “karoshi,” or “death by overwork,” in the country. Overwork-related compensation claims from dead workers’ families have hit a record high, and a woman’s death after 159 hours of overtime a month made global news in October.

Taisei, a Japanese office security and cleaning firm, is reportedly planning to test out a solution to force overworked employees to go home—by flying drones through offices after hours and having them blare music (specifically, the Scottish tune “Auld Lang Syne”) to anyone who lingers.

Resorting to drones to usher employees out of the office is, as the BBC points out, a somewhat silly attempt to tackle a problem with much deeper roots: the immense pressure that many Japanese employees feel to perform at an untenable level in the workplace. Companies in Japan have a history of fostering intense, tournament-style competition among employees, and it has long been frowned upon to leave the office before one’s boss or colleagues.

Cutting workers off from access to the office also isn’t necessarily going to keep them from working—not with the 24/7 work culture that new technologies, like mobile email and Slack, have brought upon us. A true panacea to the modern world’s work-life balance problem, which exists outside of Japan (just perhaps to lesser degrees), would likely have to involve cultural shifts from the top down.

Taisei will launch its drones in April for its own employees, and then roll out the service to other firms later in the year. “You can’t really work when you think ‘it’s coming over any time now’ and hear ‘Auld Lang Syne’ along with the buzz,” Taisei director Norihiro Kato told AFP.

True enough: