A new survey by Japan’s health ministry has found that Japanese young people in the 20-to-39 age bracket are more overworked and unhappy than ever. The main reason for unhappiness was, unsurprisingly, work-related stress. Amid the grim situation the survey revealed, the only good news was happiness levels rose through life, becoming highest for those aged over 65.

The survey also sought to find what young people do after their stressed-out workweek. Apparently most young people spend their weekends doing nothing much at all. More than one-third said they spent days off “doing nothing or dozing.” Older age groups were more active, with only 25 percent reporting doing nothing.

If younger workers feel they can only unwind through inactivity, they are highly mistaken. A good sleep-in or afternoon nap on the tatami can be marvelously restorative, but the human mind and body needs soothing, engaging activity to fully recover from stress.

Unfortunately the most common weekend activity, over 40 percent for all age groups, was surfing the Internet. While the Internet is so diverse as to be difficult to categorize or judge, and the survey did not ask exactly what sites people actually went to, surfing the net is a solitary activity with little face-to-face interaction and even less physical movement.

Just over 10 percent of those between 20 and 39 reported doing any exercise, sports or even walking, compared to over 30 percent of those over 65.

The picture of the typical Japanese weekend that emerges from this survey is one of isolation and inactivity. The most common thing people did when they were anxious or worried was reported to be taking time to relax and sleep. For young people, even eating came in ahead of hobbies or sports.

Companies can help reverse this trend for their most important asset. Following the lead of many progressive companies, membership in health clubs, gyms and exercise facilities can be bought at reduced rates for large groups. The ministry of health also needs to ensure that companies continue to reduce overtime work. When working hours continue until late at night, few employees will consider doing exercise or other activities. The current vicious cycle of overwork followed by inactivity needs to be changed.

Companies and the government should understand that a humane and efficient workplace is one where employees are not stressed out but maintain high energy. What employees do in their off time is their choice, but they need to better understand what they do in their leisure hours greatly affects their working ability and their general level of mental and physical health.

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