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‘Work style reform’ in Japan

Nearly 1 in 4 companies have admitted that some employees do more than 80 hours of overtime work per month, according to the Japanese government’s white paper on karoshi or death by overwork.

Japan’s government has been trying over the past several years to change the cultural attitudes toward work.

Previous attempts to encourage Japanese employees to spend less time at work have had little success. Japanese workers typically use just half of their annual paid leave entitlements.

To improve the situation, Prime Minister Abe launched a “work style reform” panel seeking to make time off more alluring for Japanese workers. Many Japanese men and women are still having a hard time balancing work and family life, due mainly to long working hours. Some 70% of men with children under 6 do not participate in child rearing, while around 60% of women have to quit their job after having their first child, according to the government white paper.

Some private companies have started to lead the change by forcing people to take at least five days off every six months, or shutting the lights off every night at 10 p.m. for people to head home, or shifting their allowable overtime hours to the morning. One company opens its door at 5 a.m. for anyone who wants to avoid staying late at the office. Others introduced telework programs, flexible work hours and other measures.

The “Premium Friday”, which started February this year, organized with the support of the government and private sector, asked the companies to allow their workers to leave at 3p.m. on the last Friday of the month. Along with “changing the way people work,” it is hoped that people would devote some of the extra time to consumption, stimulating the economy by shopping or engaging in other type of leisure pursuits. (Floro Mercene)