It is already two months since the young German working in the City died from what seemed overwork (see e.g. the independent or the guardian), in what could be considered further evidence of karoshi (death from overwork, originally coined in Japan in 1978) arriving to Europe.

As of today this type of death (cerebrovascular or cardiovascular death from overwork) is recognized and compensated only in Japan, South Korea and Taiwan (available comparison in this academic article). In Europe, regarding official recognition, the closest shots are the cases of Sweden and the Netherlands that already recognize burnout as an occupational disease.

Yet, these extreme cases of Karoshi or death by overwork should not distract us from a less of a traumatic event, but with larger implications for many more people. It is what can be termed work intensification, a dynamic that affects our health slowly but continuously in what could eventually become a serious health issue.

In short, work intensity is not the number of hours we work, but the effort we put in those hours, both in physical and mental terms.

Do we mean work stress?

Not exactly. Though it is related, work intensity is rather a source of stress (a stressor) that has not stopped growing in Europe since the first European Working Conditions Surveys were first introduced in 1991.

According to these surveys by Eurofound, the EU agency for the improvement of living and working conditions, work intensity in Spain would have risen by 40% from 1995 to 2005 (here it is measured as work under tight deadlines at least a quarter of the time) long before the economic crisis.

Working to tight deadlines at least a quarter of time

Source: Prepared by the authors based on Eurofound data, 2013

At this point perhaps someone will wonder: So what…is this necessarily bad? Is not a measure of our productivity? What if it is something we pursue at will?. Eventually we will be answering these questions, but we can already anticipate that in general terms is bad and unsustainable for health. International research confirms work intensification impacts health severely (e.g. in terms of mental or cardiovascular diseases, among others) and/or more softly (e.g. musculoskeletal, gastrointestinal, bruxism, among others).

Moreover, the consequences not only affect health “directly” , but also thru impact in social relations (partner, family, friends, etc. ) which in turn usually end up having impact on health.


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