Future of Work

Feeling sleepy in the office? This Japanese technology detects tired workers and blasts cold air into the room

A businessman uses his mobile phone in Tokyo's business district April 1, 2013. Japanese business sentiment improved in the first three months of 2013, a central bank survey showed, after Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's aggressive monetary and fiscal policy prescriptions helped to weaken the yen and bolster share prices.   REUTERS/Toru Hanai (JAPAN - Tags: POLITICS BUSINESS TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY)

Lowering the temperature is a tried and tested method of keeping sleepiness at bay. Image: REUTERS/Toru Hanai

Johnny Wood
Writer, Forum Agenda
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It’s not unusual for Japan’s notoriously overworked employees to snooze at their desks. In fact, there is a Japanese word for napping in public, “inemuri”, which roughly translates as “present while sleeping”.

But a collaboration between two of the country’s leading manufacturers could make the post-lunch office nap a thing of the past.

Air conditioning manufacturer Daikin and electronics giant NEC are trialling a system that uses cameras attached to employees’ computers to monitor different types of eyelid movement. When it recognizes signs of drowsiness, the system lowers the room’s temperature.

Image: Reuters

The concept was developed after an initial study tried to find the most effective way to keep people attentive, or at least awake.

Researchers gave participants in the trials simple maths problems to solve under different conditions, which included lowering the room’s temperature by a few degrees, increasing the brightness and spraying different aromas.

“Our study proved that lowering temperature is effective ... especially when the early signs of sleepiness are detected,” the companies said in a joint statement.

There are plans to make the new system commercially available by 2020, a Daikin spokesman told the AFP news agency.

The company also wants to develop air conditioners that are capable of blasting cool air at individual snoozing workers.

Long days at the office

Rate of full-time workers in Japan working 60 hours or more per week in 2016, by age and gender Image: Statista

In principle, Japan's labour laws allow for an eight-hour working day and a maximum of 40 hours of employment each week. However, these regulations are not always adhered to by employers, or effectively policed by authorities.

In practice, many employees in Japan endure long hours at work. In 2016, 7.7% of the full-time working population spent 60 hours or more each week in the workplace. This figure is higher for men (11.7%) than women (2.6%), and the worst-affected group is men in their forties, with 15.2% working over 60 hours each week, according to Statista.

In Japanese “karoshi” translates to “death from overwork”. A cap on working hours could help to lower the incidents of karoshi, but unless employment rules are enforced effectively this may not fully address the problem.

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