Jobs and the Future of Work

This Japanese company has an unusual way to stop employees from working too hard

People walk on an overpass in a business district of Tokyo, March 17, 2015.

12% of Japanese firms have employees breaking the 100 hours a month mark. Image: REUTERS/Yuya Shino

Briony Harris
Senior Writer, Forum Agenda
Our Impact
What's the World Economic Forum doing to accelerate action on Jobs and the Future of Work?
The Big Picture
Explore and monitor how Japan is affecting economies, industries and global issues
A hand holding a looking glass by a lake
Crowdsource Innovation
Get involved with our crowdsourced digital platform to deliver impact at scale
Stay up to date:


For the millions of Japanese workers who spend evening after evening at their desks, working well beyond their contracted time, there's good news in the form of a drone.

The T-Frend drone encourages workers to go home by flying around the office and playing the tune of “Auld Lang Syne.” In Japan, shopkeepers play the same song to signal they are about to close.

The drone has been developed by the construction firm Taisei, which has more than 8,000 workers. The firm said the drone will be used to monitor security in the office at night, as well as detecting workers who are staying at work later than is good for them.

Since programs were developed to enable them to navigate inside buildings, where satellite navigation systems are not a viable option, there's been an explosion is such innovations.

Drones have a huge variety of uses, including firefighting Image: Reuters/Hannibal Hanschke

T-Frend's developers are also looking into using facial recognition technology to tell who is in the office after hours or whether there is an intruder.

Death from overwork

Japan has a culture of staff working well over their standard hours. Working very long hours is still perceived as proof of loyalty and dedication. A 2016 report found nearly a quarter of Japanese companies have staff working more than 80 hours overtime a month, often unpaid. And 12% of Japanese firms have employees breaking the 100 hours a month mark.

Eighty hours overtime a month is viewed as the level above which a person has an increased chance of dying. Japan even has its own word for death from overwork; Karoshi.

The Japanese government has recently introduced a number of measures - including Premium Friday where staff go home early on the last Friday of each month - in an attempt to counter the culture of long office hours. But analysts say it has had only limited success.

The problem is not just cultural. The shrinking workforce - due to low birth rates and an ageing population - has left fewer workers with a greater workload.

Japan is struggling with a shrinking workforce. Image: Statista

That - in part - explains the appeal of the T-Frend drone. Not only can it be used to monitor overtime, it could also replace the need for security guards in a country where labour shortages are a very real problem.

Disrupting force Image: Statista

The potential uses of commercial drones are incredibly varied and drones are predicted to become a significant disrupting force in many industries. Research by PricewaterhouseCoopers estimates the value of the global market for commercial drones technology at more than $127bn.

Have you read?
Don't miss any update on this topic

Create a free account and access your personalized content collection with our latest publications and analyses.

Sign up for free

License and Republishing

World Economic Forum articles may be republished in accordance with the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International Public License, and in accordance with our Terms of Use.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author alone and not the World Economic Forum.

World Economic Forum logo
Global Agenda

The Agenda Weekly

A weekly update of the most important issues driving the global agenda

Subscribe today

You can unsubscribe at any time using the link in our emails. For more details, review our privacy policy.

Talent trends in Asia: How to boost workforce productivity and well-being

Peta Latimer and Catherine Li Zhaoqi

June 20, 2024

About Us



Partners & Members

  • Join Us

Language Editions

Privacy Policy & Terms of Service

© 2024 World Economic Forum