TOKYO—The president of top Japanese advertising company Dentsu Inc. said Wednesday he will resign to take responsibility for the suicide of a worker who had clocked massive overtime in her first months on the job.
President Tadashi Ishii said at a Tokyo news conference he will tender his resignation at a board meeting in January although he will stay through March as a courtesy to shareholders.
Earlier Wednesday, government authorities filed papers demanding prosecutorial charges against the unidentified Dentsu employee suspected of driving Matsuri Takahashi to suicide from overwork.
Japanese society values conformity and tends to revere workaholic lifestyles. Death linked to exhaustion is so common it’s expressed as a special term, “karoshi,” which includes suicides from overwork. About 2,000 people a year kill themselves due to work-related stress, the government says.
Takahashi, 24, had just started working at Dentsu in April 2015. Her workload surged in October and she often returned home at five in the morning after working all day and night. Takahashi was clocking 100 hours of overtime a month before she jumped from her company dorm balcony in December 2015.
She left a farewell email begging her mother to not blame herself. “You’re the best mom in the world,” Takahashi had written. “But why do things have to be so hard?”
The government in September ruled that overwork caused her death. Tokyo-based Dentsu, which was raided last month by labor regulators, has repeatedly promised to curtail overtime, suspected of being widespread at the company. It started turning off headquarters lights at 10 p.m. so workers would go home.
But Ishii acknowledged the problem has not been fixed. The company said Wednesday that more than 100 workers were still doing more than 80 hours of overtime a month.
“This is something that should never have been allowed to happen,” Ishii told reporters of Takahashi’s suicide.
The company acknowledged Takahashi’s treatment was like harassment because her records showed monthly overtime within company regulations of 70 hours, with numbers like 69.9 hours, when she had actually been working far more hours.
The first person to be officially ruled a suicide from overwork was also a Dentsu employee. Ichiro Oshima, 24, didn’t get a single day off for 17 months and had averaged less than two hours of sleep a night. Still, Dentsu had argued in the 1997 court case that personal troubles were behind his 1991 suicide.