Why the Japanese government is proposing a four-day work week
Fancy a three-day weekend? You may want to consider moving to Japan, where the government will push employers to introduce four-day weeks.
Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga finalized the guidelines for the plan this week. According to the Japanese newspaper Mainichi Shimbun, the plan aims to improve the work-life balance of the population while taking into account the labor shortage in this East Asian country.
So what’s the plan?
The government unveiled the proposal as part of its annual economic policy guidelines. She recommends that employers allow their staff, especially those who need to take care of their families or who wish to acquire a skill, to work four days a week instead of five.
Japan’s fierce office culture is exemplified by the demand for long hours where, as the BBC wrote in January 2020, “it is normal for workers to take the last train home every evening”.
The article highlights how high expectations and guilt drive the work-centric society, adding that there was even a word coined in the 1970s that meant “death from overwork.”
The word “karoshi” is used to describe death from work-related stress and pressures and is still part of the Japanese lexicon today.
However, the office culture in Japan has undergone a significant change after the coronavirus pandemic, as employees work from home and spend more time with their families.
The government is now suggesting that businesses be more accommodating with work hours, saying a healthier work-life balance will help boost productivity and interconnectivity.
Many are eager to hear more about how the plan will be implemented, if shorter work weeks would also result in pay cuts. Several companies are also concerned about the impact of one less working day in the week on their activity.
Countries experiencing shorter work weeks
Several countries are evaluating what a more balanced work week looks like in practice.
In March, the Spanish government agreed to launch a pilot project for companies interested in seeing how shorter work weeks will affect their business.
The project was proposed by the small left-wing Spanish party Mas Pais as a way to improve the mental health, well-being and productivity of employees.
“With the four-day week [32 hours], we are embarking on the real debate of our time, ”said Inigo Errejon from Mas Pais on Twitter. “It’s an idea whose time has come.
The idea is also gaining ground in other parts of Europe. In November 2020, a group of left-wing politicians and union officials from across the continent sent a letter to British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and other leaders who said weeks of work longer short would help the economies to recover.
“Throughout history, shorter working hours have been used in times of economic crisis and recession as a way to share work more equitably in the economy between the unemployed and the overemployed,” said writes the group.
“For the advancement of civilization and the good of society, now is the time to seize the opportunity and move towards shorter working hours without loss of pay.”
In December 2020, consumer goods company Unilever launched a one-year project, allowing its 81 employees in New Zealand to work four days a week while receiving payment for five.
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern expressed his support for the initiative early on.
According to an article published by The Guardian in May 2020, Ardern believed the four-day work weeks was the answer to rebuilding New Zealand’s economy after the coronavirus. She said the idea could give a boost to domestic tourism as international borders are closed.
What critics say about the short work week model
However, the four-day workweek is not without its criticisms. Many companies believe that a shorter workweek will outweigh the competition and negatively affect their business.
A 2017 BBC article reported on the results of an experiment in Sweden, where nurses at a Gothenburg retirement home worked six hours a day instead of eight. He found that the cost of shorter working hours may outweigh its benefits.
“Could we do it for the whole municipality? The answer is no, it will be too expensive,” Daniel Bernmar, Left Party adviser responsible for running the Göteborg retirement home, told the BBC.
However, Bernmar said the experiment was still “successful in many ways” as it created additional jobs for the city’s nurses, lowered sick pay costs and sparked global debates on culture. work.
The experience also shed light on the psychological benefits of working fewer hours each week.
“During the trial all the staff had more energy. I could see that everyone was happy,” assistant nurse Emilie Telander told the BBC.
After 23 months of six-hour shifts, Telander said she didn’t like having to go back to regular hours. “I feel like I’m more tired than before,” she said, adding that she didn’t have time to spend with her daughter.
The bottom line
There is merit in the idea that shorter work weeks could alleviate stress caused by the workplace.
As disruptive as the pandemic is to lives and businesses around the world, it has also prompted many companies to try new working structures for day-to-day operations.
It turned out that working remotely was a viable alternative to presenting in the office. It also opened up the conversation a bit about how work affects mental health. It remains to be seen whether this spirit of change will persist after the pandemic or whether companies will revert to conventional models.