The Culture of Overwork

Artwork by Alessandro Mulya

China has a new working culture, the 996; it starts from 9 in the morning all the way to 9 in the night, 6 days a week. It has become the norm for many internet industries — knowing fully well how the expansion and the significance of today’s digital world pushes people far beyond their limits.

Karoshi, a term in Japan, is coined when someone passed away due to overwork. Since then, Japan has passed a new campaign called Premium Friday where employees go home earlier on the final week of the month.

The two polar opposite of this corporate culture further asks the question; how much is too much, and how little is too little — in terms of working, and working alone?

In the heydays of start-up culture, this sparks a whole new arrow pointing upwards; exponentially multiply everything. The workforce, the progress, the team leaders, the team members, and ultimately…the work hours. If the CEO want to make twenty promotional videos instead of two, then by the power of cramming can you only achieve it. And they do! Videos that get uploaded regularly can be consumed by you in a matter of minutes, where it takes a couple of hours to produce it. As long as the graphic starts pointing upwards and expands; that’s the only metric that matters. Because let’s face it or not, our battery level as a human cannot be visualized. And honestly, nobody cares about it too.

In the logistics world, this has been the norm since forever. Logistics work in several shifts, they do not take a day off during holidays and peak seasons, they work with long stretches at a time, and often time left work dried out and burned out in all kind of way. The suspense of reaching that target before you go home gave you that push to get there — or is it because that sense of achievement is, often time, falsely interpreted? Target-oriented work has since spreading into all aspects of work labors, especially those business-to-customers model. As the workforce went up, I realize a lot of business are actually reducing the bonus for achieving the target, knowing more and more employees will get it…rinse and repeat until your timeout become your burnout. Again.

In the freelance and all project-oriented work, the culture of overwork is often times underreported and overhappened ( if that’s a word, I guess ). You see, it’s not the free time you get in between…it’s the work. After all, almost all kind of work have their own free time. What the absence timer fail to do in the freelancing is they often have no sense of time wisdom. We get caught up in the burning passion of doing your favorite hobbies and do it whether you’re a night owl or an early bird…it doesn’t matter which one are you as long as you don’t do it for tens of hours in a straight sitting — because when you do, it makes little difference either for passion, for money, for survival, for love, or for any reason at all…sometimes it doesn’t worth sacrificing your health for it.

It has happened before and throughout all kinds of work too, so what’s the catch? Is it bad, if it has happened a zillion times before?

Overwork is not only bad, it must go. This culture only widens the gap between you and the ones driving the supercar(s) from your long hour shifts without pay. The more you work, the more poor you will be, the more problems. I will have to admit this time, this is quite a complex problem. Am I saying you have to quit your job entirely, knowing that you might still have down payments for another ten years? No. But do I advocate a lot of people working tirelessly until they’re about to pass out? Also no.

There is a lot about culture of work that change within the years that follow — back then, the culture of working overtime wasn’t really appreciated that much, but rather looked down upon. Recently, a lot of workers associate heavy workload to flex…to talk to their peers about how much work they have left and flex it. The office became the second home, and with the ever-increasing work hours, yes, it is the norm today. Even I boast about it sometimes, knowing that coming home tired means that you worked your right to earn that money.

To think that cultures come and go, I sure hope that this one in particular, can be replaced with newer ones that spark more positivity, healthy lifestyle and the ones that actually actively trying to help you — and in the culture of work, possibly earning more money in doing so. If you’re coming from the future and it has all changed; then I am quite happy to hear that!

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