The future of work: Karoshi or Madogiwazoku?

What impact will artificial intelligence have on global health and wellness ratings? Many believe that employees will be faced with a fork in the road, as automation cancels out numerous forms of employment…

"I was born in America but at a young age I moved to Japan, I was in for quite a shock. School was very different; shaved heads, smart uniforms, very strict rules. I went home one day and said to my parents: 'What’s going on here? Have I been sent to some sort of prison?'"

Bizreach CEO, Swimmy Minami, recalled his upbringing with a bright smile on stage at The WorldPost’s recent Future Work conference, however its impact on the way he works as an entrepreneur is clearly very profound. His experiences go a long way to explain the cultural differences between two of the world’s largest economies.

"I once visited an office in the UK and there were these signs on the wall 'take your lunch break' or 'please leave the office by 7pm', that sort of thing. A while later I visited an office of the same company in Japan, this time the signs read 'please leave the office by 11pm'. That’s the difference, the attitude to work is very different."

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the Japanese have a word to encapsulate the hard slog many of the country’s office workers face: "Karoshi". When translated Karoshi, rather dauntingly, means death by being overworked. More interestingly, however, is the emergence of another word in Japanese culture used to describe a fate that befalls many other office workers.

"Madogiwazoku" is a word used to describe "the window ledge tribe", those employees who remain at the company – with little motivation or influence - staring out of the window and not really achieving anything.

On the face of things, the existence of these words can tell us two things about life inside a typical Japanese company. Firstly, there is a very strong work ethic, more often than not defined by long hours. Secondly, there’s a very real threat of quickly becoming marginalized. But do these two ends of the spectrum touch upon a far wider, global issue that many will be faced with in the coming years?

For computers, of course, the idea of employee wellbeing is quite literally an alien concept

While the Japanese government look to pass legislation to protect workers against rising stress levels and health problems, there are growing concerns in all territories that the impact of computers and artificial intelligence will leave increased numbers of individuals choosing between embracing work like never before or facing the prospect of being left on the sidelines in a rapidly changing jobs market.

Maintaining high levels of health and wellness across national workforces is something that may prove to be increasingly difficult as businesses align themselves with a new digital economy, especially when coupled with the financial struggle and high levels of unemployment being experienced in some countries.

Indeed, many are asking whether the idea of employee wellbeing and job security will be defined on how effectively you can work with computers. Research recently released by the University of Oxford has suggested that 47 per cent of the jobs in America are currently under threat of being automated in the next 10 years.

This in itself is a worrying development for many, with traditional education systems failing to keep up with innovations in the private sector. There are currently millions of people preparing for careers that will soon no longer be viable.

Those careers that aren’t ended by automation will no doubt still be significantly impacted. Just as with the agricultural and industrial revolutions, the digital revolution will bring with it a great many more opportunities for employment, but the time in which this realignment takes to happen may see a downward turn in wellness ratings across the world – something that Virgin Disruptors panelist and Gallup CEO Jim Clifton thinks will be increasingly important.

"Wellbeing metrics for nations and cities and organizations will become as or more important than traditional economic measures such as GDP or company stock prices within two decades - simply because they predict better.

"For example, there wasn’t a single data point that could predict the coming of the Arab Spring - which is now the Arab Nightmare - in any institution of data, except wellbeing. Tunisia’s and Egypt’s GDP were doing very well before the uprisings, so just about everyone in the world thought those countries were fine. But no one, including the smartest and most informed people in the world, saw that wellbeing was crashing in both societies."

For computers, of course, the idea of employee wellbeing is quite literally an alien concept, for the time being at least.

So the decision is yours – Karoshi or Madogiwazoku?

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