Dentsu president to resign after company’s recruit commits suicide due to overwork

Dentsu Inc. President Tadashi Ishii said on 28 December that he will step down next month to take responsibility over the incident involving suicide of Matsuri Takahashi, a new Dentsu recruit, caused by excessive work.

Labour authorities sent papers on the company to prosecutors over the 24-year-old female employee’s death.

Ishii said at a press conference on Wednesday evening, “I feel deep responsibility as a person overseeing management of the company.”

“I will take full responsibility (for the incident) and will step down at a board meeting in January,” he added.

The New York Times reported that Matsuri Takahashi, a promising graduate of Japan’s top university, jumped to her death in December 2015.

“It’s 4am. My body’s trembling. I’m going to die,” that was reportedly one of her tweets not long before she killed herself by leaping from a dorm at Dentsu, the ad company where the 24-year-old worked.

That culture is common in Japan and even has a term, ‘karoshi,’ or ‘death from overwork.’

The Japan Times reported Tadashi Ishii apologized in person to Takahashi’s family on Sunday, and he said he’d offer his resignation to Dentsu’s board in January.

A labor department investigation found Matsuri had been putting in more than 100 hours of overtime each month in the firm’s internet advertising division, including at weekends.

This had led up to her death; and she’d written on Twitter and to family that her bosses had harassed her and made sexist remarks.

Her mother, Yukimi Takahashi, told the TBS TV network, “My daughter was telling her friends and colleagues she would get only 10 hours of sleep in a single week and the only thing she felt was just a desire to sleep … why did she have to die?”

Yukimi Takahashi (right), mother of Matsuri, on 7 Oct speaks to journalists with a lawyer by her side at a news conference in Tokyo after her daughter's suicide was recognized as karoshi / photo: Kyodo News via
Yukimi Takahashi (right), mother of Matsuri, on 7 Oct speaks to journalists with a lawyer by her side at a news conference in Tokyo after her daughter’s suicide was recognized as karoshi / photo: Kyodo News via

She said that Matsuri’s death proved that some companies put business performance before the well-being of their employees.

The Guardian reported that the probe on karoshi found that despite attempts by some firms to establish a better work-life balance, Japanese workers still spend too much hours in the office than those in other countries.

According to the white paper polled between December 2015 and January 2016, 22.7 percent of companies said some of their employees logged more than 80 hours of overtime each month – the official verge at which the likelihood of death from work becomes serious.

The report also showed that approximately 21.3 percent of Japanese employees work 49 or more hours each week on average, far above the 16.4 percent reported in the US, 12.5  percent in Britain and 10.4 percent in France.

But Hiroshi Kawahito, secretary general of the National Defence Counsel for Victims of karoshi, said the government’s reluctance to recognise karoshi deaths means the actual number could be 10 times higher. The Guardian wrote that number is more like 2,000 suicides a year.

More than 20 percent of workers clocked dangerous levels of overtime each month, according to a government survey.

The AP reported, the country’s first white paper on karoshi surveyed on October found 93 suicides or attempted suicides in 2015 related to overwork, with 96 deaths from heart attacks, strokes, and other illness linked to karoshi.

The Business Insider reported Japan has been trying desperately to tamp down this deeply ingrained work ethic, including a ‘work style reform’ panel led by PM Shinzo Abe.

Some firms have started encouraging more work-life balance, including Dentsu – which has a reputation as being particularly hard-core – with a slogan started in the ’50s, which encourage workers to do their job ‘even if it kills you’. Now Dentsu turns the office lights off at 10pm and makes workers take a minimum of five days off every six months.

The conservative Yomiuri Shimbun said that a 2014 law designed to prevent karoshi had not changed the prevailing work culture of devotion and self-sacrifice, even at the expense of employees’ health.

The newspaper wrote, “Workplaces that force employees to work excessively long hours do not, in the end, increase their productivity”.

Matsuri’s mom said to the Guardian, “I want to change the consciousness of every working person in Japan.”

Officially, Japan recognises two types of karoshi: suicide caused by work-related mental stress and death from illness linked to overwork.


Notify of
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments