Guest Post: The Risk of Ignoring Muri
While doing research for another project, I had the opportunity to watch the move Happy, a documentary looking at the science of happiness around the world. If you have not had the chance to see the movie, I highly recommend it, especially as the holidays approach (Mark’s note: available via Amazon instant video, for free even, if you’re an Amazon Prime member, or on DVD).
According to the movie, the research shows that, while 50% of our happiness is from a genetic set point, only 10% is due to external circumstances like income, social status, age; in other words, the things we think will make us happy. We actually have 40% that we can change through intentional activities, like gratitude, connection to others, and acts of kindness. Imagine the culture we could create, in organizations and societies, if people intentionally focused on increasing their personal happiness skill set!
One statement in the movie caught my attention – Japan is one of the least happy of the developed countries. A key reason for this is toxic lifestyles due in large part to the work culture. It is not uncommon for employees to work consistently for more than 10 hours per day, not all of it officially on the clock. One of the consequences of this culture is an increase in karoshi (death by overwork); another consequence is an increase in suicide due to depression.
The filmmakers interviewed Hiroko Uchino a widow whose husband, Kenichi, was a third-generation Toyota employee, and a victim of karoshi; he died in 2002 at the age of 30. According to an Economist article from December 19, 2007, on November 30, 2007 the Nagoya District Court accepted Hiroko Uchino’s claim of karoshi, which may have caused companies to review their work cultures and policies toward “free” or unpaid overtime. This is not a new story; Mark did a blog post in 2007 about it; however, the movie has me thinking about muri.
Hiroko Uchino directly ties the Toyota focus on the elimination of muda and quest for efficiency to overwork, which is pushing people to their limits. As I think about many organizations starting on a Lean journey, they focus mainly on “continuous improvement” and sometimes forget “respect for people” all together. They focus mainly on eliminating muda, which is great, but not without risks if you lose sight of mura (unevenness/variation) or muri (overburdening). My initial reaction to the interview of Hiroko Uchino was that the culture and leadership created waste by their relentless focus on muda and lack of focus on muri, which taken to the extreme results in karoshi. This is not “respect for people”.
Is this “death by overwork” only a phenomenon in Japan? From the research I’ve read, I don’t think so. Why is happiness important to a Lean culture? Happy people are more productive, creative, collaborative, and enjoyable work colleagues. Over-stressed or overburdened people – not so much – they make mistakes, have higher rates of health issues, including depression, are more withdrawn, and less able to make effective decisions.
While happiness isn’t formulaic, some of the skill areas you can intentionally develop are
- taking time for play,
- having new experiences,
- spending time with friends and family,
- doing meaningful activities, and
- appreciating what you have.
Creating time for people to be able to develop these skills is actually good for business. So remember, for long-term success eliminate not only muda, but also mura and muri, and muri includes overburdening your people, process, and systems.
Happy the Movie: http://www.thehappymovie.com/film/
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