Experts divided as Japanese government backs four-day workweek
The government plans to encourage companies to let their employees choose to work four days a week instead of five, with the aim of improving work-life balance for people with family responsibilities or in need of more. free time to learn new skills.
The government included the promotion of an optional four-day work week in its annual economic policy directive finalized by Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga’s office on Friday.
Experts are divided, however, on whether the new initiative, aimed at addressing challenges posed by the country’s labor shortage, will be widely accepted, with unions and management expressing concerns over possible unwanted results.
For employers, while people working four days a week may become more motivated, it may not improve their productivity enough to make up for the lost workday. Employees, for their part, fear wage cuts.
Among the expected benefits are helping people with family responsibilities avoid having to quit their jobs, promoting recurrent education and helping more people take on side jobs, the government said. .
The coronavirus pandemic has helped the idea of a four-day work week gain traction as the health crisis forces people to spend more time at home.
At the end of April, the ruling Liberal Democratic Party recommended that the government take political measures to facilitate the adoption of the system.
The LDP said working fewer days should promote “diverse work styles” and spur workers with new skills to move into growing industries such as IT.
At a key economic and fiscal policy meeting in mid-April where the promotion of a four-day work week was discussed, Suga said his government would consider expanding support for people wishing to improve their lives. career through recurrent training without leaving their job.
Among large economies, Australian, Canadian, Italian and American employees work longer hours than the Japanese, according to the OECD survey. But Japan’s labor market remains rigid, with productivity showing limited improvement as people take fewer vacations compared to other developed countries and labor mobility remains low.
According to a survey last year of more than 4,000 companies by the Ministry of Labor, 8.3% of them gave their employees more days off than under a five-day work week.
Internet services and e-commerce giant Yahoo Japan Corp. started allowing employees who need more time to take care of themselves to take three days off per week in April 2017.
“This has been generally welcomed, with some employees saying it has become easier to match their days off with their children’s activities,” a Yahoo Japan spokesperson said.
Meanwhile, Hisashi Yamada, vice chairman of the Japan Research Institute think tank, said he did not expect a four-day workweek to spread quickly in Japan, even as the government l ‘pushes it, because it would complicate the management and evaluation of the staff.
“Let’s say if employees take a second job, it would be difficult for managers to know how long they are working in total and also to assess those who take two days off per week and those who take three. From an employee’s perspective, they wouldn’t want to see their income from their main job go down, ”said Yamada, who is familiar with labor economics issues.
At Yahoo Japan and many other companies that offer a reduced working day option, additional time off is not paid. The Yahoo Japan spokesperson said about 100 of the company’s 7,000 employees requested the four-day work week in April. Those who want more days off to learn new skills and take on side jobs are not eligible for the program, he said.
Japan Research’s Yamada said he believes some small and medium-sized businesses can’t afford such extra days off, and some businesses might try to cut labor costs by applying a week. four-day shift even to employees who wish to work longer days.
“It will be important for the government to develop a framework that guarantees the right of a worker to choose whether or not to take three days off per week,” he said.
Takuya Hoshino, an economist at the Dai-ichi Life Research Institute, says simply introducing a four-day work week won’t necessarily encourage employees to use their free time in a way that benefits their careers or contributes to the economy.
“It is important that companies make it clear what they intend to adopt by adopting such a system” and provide the necessary support to employees to do so, he said.
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