While Taiwan has been barred from the World Health Assembly for the third straight year, the WHO has added an entry to its International Classification of Diseases that is relevant to the nation.
Job-related burnout, often caused by overwork, is now a diagnosable medical condition under the WHO guidelines. Diagnosis can be made after doctors have ruled out other mental disorders, with the situation being strictly related to work environment.
To those who question the point of classifying new mental disorders, keep in mind that people tend to ignore or stigmatize mental issues otherwise. Listing something as a medical condition, or calling it a disease, normalizes it as something that needs to be taken seriously and treated, just like the common cold.
In the same vein, “gender identity disorder” was removed as a mental health disorder, which is a logical step as LGBT+ awareness and understanding continue to make headway.
That is one area where Taiwan can be proud as the first Asian nation to legalize same-sex marriage — but on the labor front there is still obviously more work to be done so that employers stop treating workers like machines with no regard for their mental well-being.
Case in point: In November 2017, during a discussion about labor law amendments, a corporate representative questioned whether overwork even occurred in Taiwan, saying that those who supposedly died from overwork were suffering from other diseases, despite statistics showing otherwise.
Taiwan had the third-longest working hours in 2017 among Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development countries, with 30 people dying from overwork that year.
Overwork was one of the main themes of the International Workers’ Day protests on May 1, as demonstrators asked for more holidays.
A survey released last month by online job bank yes123.com found that more than half of Taiwanese employees are expected to finish their work on their own accord after their regular work hours, with “some” employers failing to pay overtime.
The survey found that 45.6 percent of employees feel fortunate when they are “able to take time off without being given a hard time,” affirming that many workers are discouraged from taking their legally guaranteed holidays.
This has long been a problem in Taiwan’s corporate culture, which desperately needs to change for the nation to remain competitive and attractive to foreign talent.
The Taiwan Environmental and Occupational Medicine Association welcomed the WHO’s decision, with physician Yang Chen-chang (楊振昌) saying that the new diagnosis guidelines would help Taiwanese medical professionals in measuring and analyzing data on overwork’s effects on people’s health.
However, the most important issue is still awareness on both the employers’ and employees’ side. Companies generally do not keep track of whether employees are being overworked, and as everyone else works long hours, employees are likely to endure their conditions, not realizing that burnout is a problem until health problems arise.
Besides enforcing regulations, Yang said the government should better promote its online “overwork test” so that people can have a better idea of where they stand and can take the problem more seriously. The negative effects of overwork are not reversible by getting more rest the next day.
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