Japanese firms turn to four-day week as they look to improve life balance for country’s notoriously hard-working employees
- Major firms including Panasonic and Hitachi are offering reduced working weeks
- A 2019 trial by Microsoft Japan found productivity jumped 40 per cent
- Most staff say they would rather work the extra day to receive full pay
Japanese companies are increasingly switching to four-day weeks to improve the work-life balance for its hard-working employees.
The shortened working week, which is gaining popularity around the world, encourages staff to take more care of their children or elderly parents, volunteer or pick up new hobbies or interests during the extended weekend.
Major Japanese conglomerate Panasonic became the latest company to offer staff the option of taking a third weekend day off.
Japanese companies are increasingly switching to four-day weeks to improve the work-life balance for its hard-working employees
The Japanese government said in its most recent economic policy guideline that it is now encouraging companies to offer the optional four-day week.
Panasonic joins Hitachi, global bank Mizuho and Uniqlo operator Fast Retailing Co., in allowing staff to shorten their working week, the Japan Times reported.
Last year, 8.5 per cent of companies were not enforcing a full five-day working week, a survey of 4,000 firms found.
Panasonic president Yuki Kusumi said: ‘It is our responsibility to ensure a work-life balance to our diverse workers.’
In August 2019, Microsoft Japan implemented a four-day week giving their 2,300 employees five Fridays off in a row.
The company said productivity jumped 40 per cent, meetings were more efficient, and workers – who were also happier – took less time off.
Nine out of ten employees at the company said they preferred the shorter working week and other benefits, including a 23 per cent reduction in weekly electricity use, and a 59 per cent decrease in the number of pages printed by employees, which were also welcomed by employers.
The Japanese government said in its most recent economic policy guideline that it is now encouraging companies to offer the optional four-day week
Pharmaceutical company Shionogi & Co. started allowing workers to take an extra day off last month.
The Osaka firm hopes employees will build their networks by meeting contacts through other programmes, education or hobbies.
Pros and cons of a four-day week
- Fewer distractions at work
- Longer hours does not mean more output
- Increased mental wellbeing and physical health
- Parents with children find themselves less stressed out
- Lowered carbon footprint
- Not all industries can participate
- It might widen existing inequalities
- The cost risk for employers is expensive
- Workers may put in the same hours anyways
- Difficult team management
Source: Adecco Group
The company’s public relations boss said: ‘We want workers to meet new people and experience things that they cannot at this company, and thus make use of them in their jobs here.’
Staff on the four-day week receive 80 per cent of their normal salary and are allowed to take a second job.
Hitachi, a major multinational conglomerate, gives staff the option to organise their own work schedule.
They can work a four-day week as long as they fulfil their required hours each month.
There are reservations over how the system will work in Japan where two-day weekends were only introduced in many companies in the late 1980s.
A survey found 78.5 per cent of workers in their 20s to 50s said they would not take an extra day off if if meant their pay was cut.
Meanwhile, 60 per cent of the respondents in the poll by Mynavi Corp said it would be impossible to implement it at their workplace due to understaffing or workload.
Around the world, many countries are trialling the four-day week after a successful test in Iceland.
More than 3,000 employees at 60 companies across the UK will be able to work for four days a week on the same pay in a trial from June to December, in what is believed to be the biggest pilot scheme of its kind ever.
The programme, organised by academics at Oxford, Cambridge and Boston College in the US, will see a range of businesses and charities taking part.
They include the Royal Society of Biology, hipster London brewery Pressure Drop, a Manchester medical devices firm, and a fish and chip shop in Norfolk.
Similar experiments are due to be held in the USA, Canada, Ireland, Australia and New Zealand, while trials are already being conducted in Spain and Scotland.
Pressure Drop brewery in Tottenham, North London, is one of the businesses taking part in the trial
The trial, led by 4 Day Week Global, will see staff members from different organisations completing the usual amount of work, and up to 35 hours each week, but split over four days rather than five.
Major companies that have tried out a four-day week but are not part of the trial include Unilever, Atom Bank and Panasonic.
Mark Downs, CEO of the Royal Society of Biology, said he decided to take part in the trial to see if the change could help attract staff in an ‘incredibly competitive’ labour market.
Researchers have been arguing that benefits to a four-day week would also see staff return a more efficient work performance for their employers.
Several ‘influencer’ agencies are already operating a four-day working week, including Engage Hub, whose employees will have either a Wednesday or a Friday off, rotating every eight weeks.
The trial, led by 4 Day Week Global, will see staff members from different organisations completing the usual amount of work, and up to 35 hours each week, but split over four days rather than five. Pic: Commuters in London
During the pandemic, it was believed that introducing a four-day working week would boost high street sales by an estimated £58billion in the UK, according to Affise.
This is because three-day weekends would give shoppers 20 per cent more time to buy, and see an expected spending increase related to hobbies, gardening and DIY.
In Iceland, a four day working week trial was carried out between 2015 and 2019 and labelled an ‘overwhelming success’ by researchers.
Workplaces that took part, including at Reykjavík City Council which ran the trial, moved from 40 hour weeks to 36 or 35 hours with some reporting an improved level of productivity among employees.
The trial eventually involved more than 2,500 workers, equal to approximately 1 per cent of Iceland’s workforce.
The workplaces included preschools, offices, hospitals and social service providers.
Will Stronge, director of research at Autonomy, said: ‘This study shows that the world’s largest ever trial of a shorter working week in the public sector was by all measures an overwhelming success.
‘It shows that the public sector is ripe for being a pioneer of shorter working weeks – and lessons can be learned for other governments.’
While campaigners have been pushing for a four-day working week, critics have argued it would create greater stress for workers who would be attempting to squeeze as much or more work into fewer hours.
Some say the concept would be impossible in customer facing jobs, or 24/7 operations including where overtime payments would present an extra cost to employers or the taxpayer.
A trial of the four-day working week in France, for example, found workers were putting in the same amount of hours even with a day fewer and companies were having to pay them for their extra time.
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