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Advocating a Four Day Work Week for Japan

SNA (Tokyo) — Libby Sander, assistant professor of Bond University in Queensland, Australia, advocates a four day work week for Japan. Her expertise on the future of work helps expose the pitfalls of long and often unproductive working hours in this country.

According to a government survey, a quarter of Japanese employees work eighty hours of overtime a month. Sander comments, “it’s not productive to have really long working hours,” A recent study conducted by in the United Kingdom found that out of an eight-hour work day, most workers are productive for only three of those hours. With that in mind, Sander observes, “the idea that we can work for twelve, fourteen hours every day and be really productive, isn’t realistic.” She adds, “We need to be realistic about the health effects both physically and mentally of this really long working culture.”

Aware that there is a problem, the Japanese government has been groping for solutions. In 2017, the Ministry of Economy, Trade, and Industry (METI), launched its Premium Friday initiative, in part attempting to reduce working hours. The notion was that Japanese employees should leave work early on the last Friday of each month. Despite a good deal of publicity at the beginning, neither employers nor workers really got behind the plan, and by February 2019, NHK reported that the success rate was only 11%.

On the other hand, an experiment last year by Microsoft Japan turned a lot of heads. The company tested a four day work week for its full-time employees last August, closing the office for paid leave on Fridays and encouraging employees to “work a short time, rest well, and learn a lot.” Company meetings were also restricted to a maximum of thirty minutes, and online operations encouraged to decrease commuting times.

The stunning result was a 40% increase in worker productivity during that month. Also, sales increased and the company saw major reductions of expenses for electricity and paper printing.

Sander believes that the younger generations will be the ones to “drive change” in the workforce.

“We’re seeing for the first time [the younger generation] not wanting a lifetime employment, they’re wanting to change companies so they can get more experience, they’re wanting to start their own businesses which, traditionally, hasn’t been prevalent in Japan like it is in other countries around the world,” she observes.

In fact, a survey conducted by Dentsu Communication Institute in 2015, revealed that 30% of young people aged 18 to 29 did not want to work for a company. In contrast, a mere 17.3% said they wanted to devote their life to one company or employer and participate in the traditional lifetime employment system.

It might just take the younger generations to finally change Japan’s work attitudes. “It will be a challenge,” Sander says. “I’m quite optimistic.”

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