Japanese firm to send overworking employees home by nagging them with music-blaring office drones

Since World War II, Japan has struggled with a work culture that consists of excessive overtime. To curb that behavior, one firm is planning to use drones that fly around the office blasting Auld Lang Syne to get employees to realize it’s time to go home.

The system, developed by office security and cleaning firm Taisei and telecom giant NTT, will see drones patrolling the office on a scheduled flight path. The drones will also record footages of what they see during the flight to identify employees who remain in the office after standard work hours.

“You can’t really work when you think ‘it’s coming over any time now,’” Taisei director Norihiro Kato told The Japan Times. Auld Lang Syne is typically played in Japanese malls to announce that stores are closing. Taisei will trial the system in April 2018, targeting a monthly fee of ¥50,000 ($450) for companies to use this service.

However, some experts say this is unlikely to solve the root problem.

“Even if this robotic harassment gets workers to leave the office, they will take work home with them if they have unfinished assignments,” Scott North, professor of sociology at Osaka University, told BBC. “To cut overtime hours, it is necessary to reduce workloads, either by reducing the time-wasting tasks and tournament-style competitions for which Japanese workplaces are notorious, or by hiring more workers.”

Overworking in Japan is the cause of thousands of deaths in Japan annually — so much so that Japan has a word to describe this particular type of mortality: karoshi. A whitepaper released last year found that one in five Japanese work an average of 49 hours or longer each week, with most karoshi victims in their 30s and 40s. The victims die from various illnesses, such as heart failure, exhaustion, stroke, starvation, or suicide as a result of work stress and depression.

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