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Work-Life Balance: Tipping the Mortality Scale

Over the last two years, many of us have experienced changes in the workplace and in the way we do our work. Whether you’ve had the opportunity to work from home or have had to go into your place of work, each of us has had to balance between a commitment to our jobs and the need to prioritize our lives outside of the workplace. Self care has become an increasingly important topic of conversation as many continue to struggle with mental health, overwhelming work loads and the demands of a family. So, why is a healthy work-life balance important?

Let’s take it back to the early 1990’s, when researchers in Japan started to study and report on a phenomenon where it appeared ostensibly healthy, middle-aged, mostly men, started to suddenly die. They named this “karoshi”, meaning death from overwork and the common denominator was a history of chronically long work weeks, oftentimes 60 hours or more. The cause of death was disturbing in its’ repetition, most often heart disease, stroke or suicide (1).

More recently, and perhaps due to the pandemic and a growing body of knowledge that is increasingly difficult to ignore, there is renewed interest in the burden and toll of an unhealthy work life.

In 2021, a joint venture by the World Health Organization (WHO) and the International Labour Organization (ILO) published that nearly 400,000 people died from stroke and almost 350,000 from heart disease as a direct result of chronic work weeks of 55 hours or more. Between 2000 and 2016, this increased by 42% for heart disease and 19% for stroke (2). In these groups, 72% were males and more concentrated in workers aged 60 or higher. Related studies demonstrate that in younger age groups, mental health disorders appeared, for many in the third decade of life (3).

So, what can be done to stem the tide of this disturbing trend? In Japan, legislation has been passed to limit the amount of monthly permitted overtime. However, Japanese critics claim the threshold for allowable overtime hours is still too high and enforcement is inconsistent. In Canada, more employers are increasingly sensitive to the work-life balance necessary to maintain a healthy workforce. There is more of an emphasis on sleep as a bedrock of good health, and good sleep advocacy continues to gain ground in addition to good nutrition, exercise and positive social integration (4).

It’s becoming increasingly clear that hard work is made more satisfying by knowing when to call it a day. So be sure to be an advocate for your own self care and strike the right balance between work and play.


1. Hunt, Ellen. Wired. Japan’s karoshi culture was a warning: we didn’t listen. February 6, 2021.

2. World Health Organization. Long working hours increasing deaths from heart disease and stroke: WHO, ILO. May 17, 2021.

3. Takahashi, Mayasa. Sociomedical problems of overwork-related deaths and disorders in Japan. National Library of Medicine. January 22, 2019.

4. Tollin, Lisa. Arianna Huffington shares the secret to her success: Sleep. her secret to success. the Secrets of Her Success: Sleep. June 5, 2017.