I Will Not Work Overtime, Period
... is what I wish I could say about myself while I write this well past office hours. As that familiar feeling of staying late in a mostly empty office settles in, I am particularly inspired to talk about TBS's spring 2019 drama starring Yoshitaka Yuriko.
In recent years, greater awareness has been raised about Japan's unhealthy overwork culture and "black companies" that force long hours on employees. Pointedly, this workplace series is not set at one of those black companies. Instead, heroine Higashiyama Yui works at a website design company whose CEO's stated policy encourages staff to leave on time. But few people do besides Yui, who sets herself the admirable daily goal of getting to a local diner before the happy hour special ends. Her no-overtime principle has made her notorious at work, but she completes her duties and leaves on the dot without regard for the whispers. Still, even Yui finds it difficult to always stick to her guns as the dynamics of her workplace begin to change with the addition of newbie joiners, the return of a veteran from maternity leave, and the arrival of two new superiors, her workaholic ex-boyfriend Taneda Kotaro (Mukai Osamu) and crafty manager Fukunaga Seiji (Yusuke Santamaria).
I Will Not Work Overtime, Period deals with many of the episodic challenges typical of workplace dramas, like co-worker disputes, tight deadlines, pitch competitions and problematic clients, as well as important social issues such as sexual harassment and the bias against working mothers. Underlying all the professional (and personal) challenges is the theme of exploring what makes office workers overtime excessively to their own detriment.
This drama sets aside the more obvious target of bad employers, though it does depict management pressure and manipulation as represented by the passive-aggressive character of Fukunaga. Most of the time, the well-written script takes on the more complex forces of office culture, competition, worker mentality and work habits. There are entrenched mindsets and behaviors that are perpetuated, even embraced, by workers themselves – think the hustle culture of Silicon Valley – and these are far harder to grasp and change. Yui's company tracks hours to make sure that people don't work too much, but there are those who just clock out and keep working.
As someone who has voluntarily accumulated far too many overtime hours of my own over the years, I can't help seeing shades of myself in the series' array of recognizable characters. Am I the inefficient Toru (Emoto Tokio) who prefers working at my own leisurely pace into the night because I have nothing else to do anyways? Am I the stressed-out Yae (Uchida Yuki) who feels the need to push harder to overcompensate for career anxiety? Am I the perennially overworked Kotaro who naturally takes on too much without complaint?
What I know is that I'd like to see more of Yui in myself – not just her commitment to leaving the office on time but more importantly, her focus, resolve and efficiency that make it possible. Since watching I Will Not Work Overtime, Period, I've thought a lot more about my work hours and habits, and I've actually applied some of the work tips shared in the drama into my own life. I'm still a far cry from Yui, but at least I now aspire to not work overtime, someday.