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Japanese Government Recommends Four-Day Workweek

June 29, 2021 by Reece Nations
Covid 19 Vaccine Minister Taro Kono, center, and Masayoshi Son, chief executive of technology company SoftBank Group Corp., left, speak to media after visiting an inoculation site set up by Japanese technology company SoftBank Group Corp. at a WeWork office Tuesday, June 15, 2021, in Tokyo. (AP Photo/Yuri Kageyama)

Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga and his cabinet approved new recommendations on Friday in the country’s annual economic policy guidelines that encourage businesses to allow employees to work four days per week rather than five.

The policy’s intent is to improve the national balance between work and life for professionals, give more time for family care obligations and allow workers to acquire new skills to aid their careers, according to the Japanese newspaper The Mainichi Shimbun.

In April, Japan’s majority-ruling Liberal Democratic Party pushed for the four-day workweek policy as a means of promoting diversified working styles. Suga had previously voiced his support for creating initiatives that promote concurrent education, helping workers branch off and improve their careers.

The shortening of the standard workweek has slowly begun to gain acceptance internationally amid workplace changes brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic. Notably, Microsoft Japan adopted a four-day workweek in Aug. 2019, leading to a reported 40% jump in the company’s productivity.

Similarly, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern of New Zealand suggested employers consider adopting a four-day workweek last year as her country embarked on its return to normalcy from the COVID-19 pandemic. In March, the government of Spain launched a pilot project for companies interested in experimenting with a four-day workweek and studying its results on productivity. 

The adoption of the policy is not mandated under the government’s guidelines, and it remains unclear if the proposal will find widespread support among the notoriously rigid work culture. The Japanese Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare began publishing statistics on “karoshi,” or “death from overwork,” in the late 1980s after an uptick in the phenomena in the previous decade.

Fewer young people have been joining the Japanese workforce in recent years, leading to a national labor shortage. In their outline of the policy, Japanese government officials said one of the intents of the proposal was to help companies retain more experienced employees who might otherwise leave their jobs should they need to help raise their family, care for an elderly relative or take on secondary employment.

Despite the country’s reputation for overworking, several other major global economies feature employees who work more hours on average than Japan, according to a survey conducted by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. Italy, Australia, Canada and the United States all average longer workdays than Japan, although Japanese government figures indicate their workers take less paid leave time.

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