Work, Life & Death

Work is an integral part of a human’s life, but does it play an equal part in a human’s death? Coined in 1982 in Japan, Karoshi refers to death, by overworking. It includes deaths due to health problems attributed to work stress (heart attack, stroke) as well as suicide.

Stress at the workplace

While we have not studied death by overwork stress in Singapore, we have some statistics on work stress that should raise some alarms. 55% of those surveyed in Singapore feel that they are under more pressure in the present than 5 years ago, and 73% of them attributed the increase in stress to working outside of office hours. Other factors that cause stress at work include last-minutes changes (meeting times etc.), unreasonable bosses, and inadequate remuneration. Are we working ourselves to death?

Harnessing Stress

While stress can cause a great deal of health problems, both physical and mental, it is important to remember that without stress, we probably could not achieve much since stress is the emotional byproduct of our goals (expectations). Moreover, an appropriate level of stress (or arousal) provides the attention required to complete any task. Employees leaving their jobs, citing reasons such as “boredom at work” or the more politically correct version, “seeking a new challenge”, certainly highlight this.

Rarely are humans unable to deal with a lack of stress, as we would usually take the liberty of seeking out activities or responsibilities when we are bored. The bigger question would be how we can manage our stress to prevent health issues (or death) due to work stress.

3 Tips to Reduce Stress at the Workplace

  1. Keep a good work-life balance, keeping overtime work to a minimum if at all. There are times when overtime work is inevitable, but note that studies have shown that productivity drops, and health risk increases when you are overworked. Work hard, Play hard.
  2. Learn how to save and organise your time as a means of stress management. Mindfulness techniques can help you to stay focused. Also, when your day is planned out with time allowance, you minimize the impact of last minute changes when they cannot be helped.
  3. Learn to communicate effectively. Understand that communication is key to any successful relationship at the workplace, and in turn reduce stress levels from bad communication practices.
    1. Pay attention as a listener, and use body cues (smiling, nodding etc.) to let your opposite number know you are listening.
    2. Say what you mean, and mean what you say.
    3. Ask for feedback to ensure that your listener received your message.

Written by Dr. Joel Yang