Create workplaces that do not cause mental illness

There is no end to cases in which people suffer from mental disorders caused by stress at work. The government and companies need to work together to create workplaces where people can do their jobs with peace of mind.

According to the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry, 629 people were recognized last fiscal year as having work-related problems after suffering from depression, adjustment disorders or other mental issues related to their work. This is the largest number since the surveys began in fiscal 1983.

The number of applications for workers’ compensation for mental problems exceeded 2,300 in fiscal 2021, which is 30% higher than the level in fiscal 2017. The current situation may be partly due to increased awareness of mental health issues as work style reforms have become more widespread.

The most common reason for the recognition of work-related incidents due to mental problems was “power harassment,” in which employees are physically or mentally attacked by superiors, with 125 people in this category. Of this number, 12 people committed suicide.

In April, the government made it legally mandatory for small and midsize companies to take measures against power harassment. The law requires that a consultation system be set up and that acts of power harassment be dealt with strictly. Some companies are said to lack labor management expertise and are at a loss how to respond.

It is true that the line between power harassment and guidance is difficult to draw.

Under the ministry’s guidelines, a strict warning from a supervisor to a worker who repeatedly fails to follow social rules, such as being late for work, does not constitute power harassment. On the other hand, if a supervisor repeatedly and severely reprimands a worker for a long period of time regarding the execution of his or her duties, that constitutes power harassment.

It should never be acceptable to attack a worker’s character and dignity. It is imperative that the government clarify the criteria for determining what constitutes power harassment and curb such conduct.

Education should also be enhanced for staffers in charge of harassment issues at small and midsize companies. Various specific examples must be introduced and carefully disseminated.

There are cases in which mental illness has developed among people working at hospitals and elderly care facilities, as a result of their anxiety about getting infected themselves amid the prolonged COVID-19 pandemic. It is important for employers to provide mental health care for such workers.

More work-related incidents due to mental issues are being recognized, but fewer people are being acknowledged as having problems related to long working hours.

However, in recent years, truck drivers have accounted for 30% of all cases of work-related incidents due to long working hours. The number of people using home delivery services has increased, but manpower has not kept pace.

The ministry requires that truck drivers rest for at least eight hours between the end of one shift and the beginning of their next. Long working hours by drivers can lead to serious accidents. Lengthening this rest period needs to be considered.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Aug. 14, 2022)