A Japanese company will soon be sending out drones blaring loud music around its offices late at night in a bid to force workers to go home. The reason for taking such extreme steps lies in the fact that since World War II Japan has struggled with a work culture of excessive overtime. Overworking in Japan is the cause of thousands of deaths annually and is rampant to the extent that the Japanese have coined a word to describe this particular type of mortality- ‘karoshi’. A whitepaper released last year found that one in five Japanese work an average of 49 hours or longer each week, with most karoshi victims in their 30s and 40s. The victims die from various illnesses, such as heart failure, exhaustion, stroke, starvation, or suicide as a result of work stress and depression. Several corporations have taken steps to combat the issue, including limiting overtime hours and attempting to force employees to leave their desks at a certain time.
To curb this working style, a construction firm Tasei has announced that it is planning to launch a ‘T-Friend’ drone soon. This ‘T-Frend’ will hover over the desks of employees who refuse to leave office at the end of the day blasting ‘Auld Lang Syne’ to indicate that it’s time to go home. The Scottish folk song is commonly used by shops in Japan as a warning they are preparing to close.
The system, developed as a joint project by the office security and cleaning firm Taisei and the telecom giant NTT, will see drones patrolling the office on a scheduled flight path. The drones will also record footages of what they see during the flight to identify employees who remain in the office after standard work hours.
A statement released by the company declared, “T-Frend will not only strengthen the security of the office space at night, but will also urge departure by regular patrol. It has effects such as restraining overtime work and can be used to improve workplace environment for the reform of workers. The user will be able to perform a tour around the office by setting the drone travelling time and route. It will encourage employees who are present at the drone patrol time to leave. This will not only to promote employee health but also conduct internal security management.”
Will It Work?
However, the T-Frend has been criticized by a number of experts in Japan, who doubt its ability to prevent workers staying late at the office.
Scott North, professor of sociology at Osaka University, told the BBC: “Even if this robotic harassment gets workers to leave the office, they will take work home with them if they have unfinished assignments. To cut overtime hours, it is necessary to reduce workloads, either by reducing the time-wasting tasks and tournament-style competitions for which Japanese workplaces are notorious, or by hiring more workers.”
Taisei will trial the system in April 2018, targeting a monthly fee of ¥50,000 ($450) for companies that would like to avail of this service.
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