Karoshi is the Japanese word for “death by overwork.” Sadly, the term has currency today, inside and outside of the ad world.
On Christmas Day in 2015, 24-year-old Matsuri Takahashi jumped to her death from her Dentsu-supplied dorm in Tokyo. In September last year, a labor standards office in Tokyo determined she had worked 105 hours of overtime over a one-month period before showing symptoms of depression. Dentsu Inc., Japan’s leading ad agency, was summarily indicted for suspected labor violations, according to Japan Times. However, three senior officials who allegedly made employees work illegally long hours, will not be indicted, the Tokyo District Public Prosecutor’s Office said on Friday.
Yukimi Takahashi, the woman’s mother, said, “I am unconvinced about the fact that her superiors were not indicted, as it is clear that they were giving the orders that violate the Labor Standards Law.”
Injustice can’t be addressed in the courts alone.The people who work in advertising must do the heavy lifting on this issue. Sexism, racism, ageism, and every other damaging practice under the sun, including overworking people, needs to go. Yet, people cling to what they know, no matter how poor the form.
I’ve heard anecdotal evidence from former Wieden+Kennedy workers in Portland that people frowned on them if they left the building before 9:00 or 10:00 p.m. May I ask, what the hell is so damn important at work that it can’t wait until morning? Colleen DeCourcy of W+K recently said that her team wants to be famous and that they deserve the fame they seek since they work so hard. I reject that thinking outright, but I do accept that it is gospel throughout Adland.
Now that we know what the gospel is, let’s expose the heresy: Industry awards are false idols, and fame belongs to the client, not to the agency or its personnel. Advertising at its best is a selfless practice. Ad makers don’t place their name on the work, nor should they.
Here’s more heresy to entertain: Many advertising professionals waste more time and money than they make. By creating leaner operations that help agencies function like a practical business instead of a clubhouse for petulant poseurs, the industry will clean up more than one mess. And when ad people stop pretending that their jobs will fill the holes in their ego, even greater progress will be made.