Japan Promotes Four-Day Working Week to Boost Productivity

The new policy aims to prevent overworking and help improve work-life balance.
Ameya Paleja

In its economic policy finalized on Friday, June 18, Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga's cabinet is promoting a four-day workweek. Implementation of the policy by firms will give employees a choice between a five-day or four-day workweek. The policy aims to improve the work-life balance for employees who need to care for their families or are looking to learn skills for career development.

A recently published study revealed that overworking is literally killing people around the world. Published by the World Health Organization, the study reports that employees in Southeast Asia and Western Pacific are at most risk. The problems of karoshi - translated as 'death by overwork' are well documented in Japan.  Unpaid overtime has been common in Japan. Officially, the government itself caps it at 100 hours every month. Previous attempts of encouraging employees to go home early or limiting overtime hours received poor implementation responses from employers. 

Restrictions during the COVID-19 pandemic meant that employees worked remotely, at their convenience, and companies saw an increase in productivity. Fujitsu has shrunk its Tokyo headquarters by 50% as it intends to retain remote working in the future, DW reported.  As people remain at home, 

Even as the restrictions lift, the Japanese economy has remained sluggish and the Japanese administration is using lifestyle changes in its next push.  

Younger people with more time to spare are likely to explore more, spend more, meet more people, marry and even have children and address the contracting population challenge that Japan is facing in the long term. 

In the short term, employees can dedicate time to their families or spend time learning new skills. For some, it will enable part-time jobs. For employers, it will ebb the loss of trained staff to family commitments.   

However, how will this pan out is still unclear. Given a choice, employees would not be willing to see their incomes drop while employers would not be willing to pay the same wages to those who work for lesser days. Evaluation of staff who work different days a week would also be tricky. 

Takuya Hoshino, an economist at the Dai-ichi Life Research Institute, does not think introducing a four-day workweek alone will benefit employees or the economy at large. He said, "It's important for companies to clarify their intent while adopting such a system" and provide the necessary support to employees to that end."



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