Flexible working conditions have proven to be extremely viable across 2020 (one of the few silver linings about COVID-19). Reconfirming what many of us have known for years – i.e. the job will get done, the people at head office just need to chill out – Japan is now taking a page out of Spain’s book, and seriously considering the implementation of a four-day work week spearheaded by the country’s own government.
Outlined in newly released economy policy guidelines, the underlying objective of the proposed four-day work week is to reinforce a better work-life balance – something Japan has traditionally struggled with in the past (more on this later). The revised stance, however, will not be compulsory, rather strongly encouraged to enable younger folks to start a family (which is also a major priority on Japan’s to-do list), take care of elderly relatives, and prevent professional burnouts.
A flexible four-day work week would also enable employed residents of Japan to undertake additional education and training, even clock into shifts at side jobs, thereby stimulating the economy in a positive way, according to the government. Newfound time to get out and about, spending a few hard-earned yen here and there, would also be among the key benefits.
Such a move would be a refreshing change of pace for Japan’s notoriously strenuous work culture. In the past, the Land of the Rising Sun’s famed salarymen and salarywomen actively engaged in an unhealthy cycle of clocking an insane amount of overtime hours, binge drinking with colleagues until late/early, and constantly being sleep deprived – to the point death by overwork has its own term in the Japanese language: karōshi. It wasn’t until 2014 when Japanese parliament passed a law to promote countermeasures against the phenomenon and concerning trend of suicide.
“The government is really very keen for this change in attitude to take root at Japanese companies,” Chief Policy Economist at Fujitsu’s Global Market Intelligence Unit – Martin Schulz – tells DW.
“During the pandemic, companies have shifted to new ways of operating and they are seeing a gradual increase in productivity. Companies are having their employees work from home or remotely, at satellite offices or at their customers’ locations – which can be far more convenient and productive for many.”
Incidentally, back in 2019, Microsoft Japan trialed the impact of a four-day work week. The results? Very promising. In numbers alone, electricity use was down by 23%, productivity was up by 40%, and an impressive 92% of employees were happier.
And now we wait for the same deal to be adopted by the turkeys in Canberra. But I wouldn’t hold my breath.