I’m worried about my son working 80 hours of overtime a month

REUTERS/Issei Kato/File Photo
Office workers wearing protective face masks walk to head home at sunset amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, in Tokyo, Japan June 9, 2020.

Dear Troubleshooter:

I am a homemaker in my 40s and I’m worried about my son, who is in his mid-20s.

He works very hard, which is fine, but he also works a lot of overtime. For months he has put in a lot of hours, I think he probably accumulates 80 hours of overtime.

Recently, my son has started saying, “I’m tired,” more often. I try to support him by paying attention to his meals and telling him to not push himself too hard.

Lately, however, he doesn’t talk to the family as much anymore. He has always been quiet and a man of few words, but now he seems more exhausted. My husband says that it’s “normal to work that much overtime,” but I don’t think that’s true.

I feel like the company is going to crush my son’s mind and body. I would prefer it if he just quit. Please let me know what advice I can give to my son and what I can do to help him.

— T, Tokyo

Dear Ms. T:

I became very worried after I read your letter. This is an issue that needs to be taken seriously if he is sometimes working 80 hours of overtime a month.

Working an average of more than 80 hours of overtime a month — two to six months prior to an illness — is thought to be strongly associated with brain disorders and heart disease, among other illnesses. Working 80 hours of overtime a month is called the “overtime death line.” Overtime is generally capped at 45 hours a month or 360 hours per year.

I am also concerned by your husband’s comment that it’s “normal to work that much overtime.” It sounds like something your son’s boss would say.

I’m sure you’re aware there have been cases in which people who work long hours end up suffering from extreme physical and mental fatigue, leading to a painful and sad outcome. One of the reasons behind this is because some people still think that it is good to work, even if you’re sacrificing sleep.

The fact that your son rarely speaks to you anymore is probably a sign that he has reached his physical and mental limit and is asking for help. I would advise him to refrain from working overtime. If it is unavoidable, I think it is OK for you to recommend that he quit.

You may also want to consider discussing the situation with the local government or another labor-related authority.

— Yoko Sanuki, lawyer