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Some context: My coworker and I are foreigners working in Japan as IT developers.

Our team works from home 2-3 days a week.

This coworker is working fully from home (too far from workspace).

Issue:

As I had to delegate part of my tasks, I recently discovered that one of my coworkers is pushing himself way too much: working a lot of (partially hidden) overtime, skipping or rushing lunches, not taking a day off when sick, etc.

It took time to realize because he works fully remotely, and he doesn't report that much on his progress.

The reason I realized late is because first it was mainly based on references he said. But, with coworkers and Scrum Master, we talked to him and confirmed the situation.

What I tried:

  • Telling him that we work as a team and that we can all support each other.

  • That we can talk openly when we need to adjust timing / deadline / resources.

  • Telling him that taking breaks and proper sleep and lunch helps us to work better.

  • Suggesting he could take a day off when he was sick and that we culd follow-up / continue on his tasks.

  • Warned my Scrum Master twice.
    Thus, my SM sync with my coworker.

But even after all that it seems the situation has not changed.

This coworker will easily say he thinks he is not capable etc., but if I try to ask more details he settles back.

I wonder if there is any (other) approach that could be more effective.

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    I was under the impression this is usual in some parts of Japan. Dec 16, 2021 at 7:33
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    Yeah it seems lot of Japanese self-"sacrifice"(Even if no explicit pressure from bosses). Again, we are both foreigner. Our management is not pushing us that much (Deadlines but not super strict). Except this coworker I did not saw that much overwork in our team
    – Kuroko87
    Dec 16, 2021 at 7:48
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    As you are working based on inference here; is it possible that you're misreading this, and the coworker is working odd hours to cover absences during regular working hours? I've noticed to coworkers with children have had spotty working hours due to needing to tend to the children, and then they cover for their absence during odd hours of the day.
    – Flater
    Dec 16, 2021 at 8:59
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    @rs.29 Japan has a high rate of people that suicide / die at work or other similar issues. I'm genuinly concerned by his health and asking this question in good faith. Sure I could says it's not my business, but I think non-assistance to people in danger is a problem. And even if I did not care of him, I still not agree that people do what they want when they live in society. But maybe it's because we have different culture background. If one coworker skips lunch, works undeclared hours, don't take days off when sick, it also affect the whole team, team spirit, team stress and so on...
    – Kuroko87
    Dec 22, 2021 at 1:28
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    @rs.29 First, I'll update the question to clarify some points. About your remarks, I don't actively search to intrude in other people's life. My perspective was that there was lot of alarms. He mentioned multiple times issues securing lunch time, having health issues but feeling finishing his tasks was important (Even though Scrum Master and coworkers told him we can assist each other on our tasks). I understand you think I'm "intrusive", but as I said on the question I synced with our Scrum Master, what I can tell is that he thanked me bringing that
    – Kuroko87
    Dec 23, 2021 at 9:57

2 Answers 2

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I believe you've already tried most of the things you could have, and even then the situation did not improve. You can offer help, but if the recipient is not willing to accept that, there's only so much you can do.

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There is an old saying: "You can lead a horse to water, but you can't make him drink". The meaning is that you can give someone advice and suggestions, but in the end they have to do the thing themselves. You've given your coworker advice and help, but they refuse to take it, and so there isn't much you can do.

One thing that might be worthwhile would be to get your manager involved (if it's not the same person as the Scrum Master who you have already gotten involved). Likely, this person thinks, perhaps due to their own cultural issues, perhaps due to Japanese work culture issues, perhaps for many other reasons, that they will be looked down upon if they take breaks. They need to be instructed, by someone in authority, that taking breaks is healthy and they need to do that, and that it's ok to do that and they won't be reprimanded or fired for taking a well-deserved break. This needs to come from the person who has hire/fire power over your coworker, which means your manager (or their manager, if you're not on the same team, which I presume you are); if you say "don't worry it's fine", you have no basis to say that because you don't know that for sure. But if the person with hire/fire power says it, then it comes across as a promise: "If you take breaks, I won't fire you".

You may also want to get your manager involved for other reasons; if this person is burning themselves out by overworking, they may be in danger of other health issues such as sleep deprivation and stress, and in the worst case karoshi (which you definitely do not want to happen, and I'm sure nobody on your team does either). To prevent those types of situations from occurring, it's important to get your manager involved here to make sure the situation resolves itself.

But in the end, you can still take a horse to water, but you can't make him drink. Especially in a remote-work environment where you can't even, for example, lock this person out of the office for a day and tell them to stay home and rest (as an extreme example), this is very hard.

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