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Japan mulls implementing a four-day work week to prevent “death from overwork”

Japan mulls implementing a four-day work week to prevent “death from overwork”

FreebieMNL - Japan mulls implementing a four-day work week to prevent “death from overwork”

Do you think the same could be applied in the Philippines?

FreebieMNL - Japan mulls implementing a four-day work week to prevent “death from overwork”
(Image: Unsplash/Jason Ortego)

In what is seen as a landmark shift in company culture, Japanese employers are now considering cutting the working week from the typical five days down to just four as part of the country’s series of new economic policy guidelines to steer itself through the pandemic.

In Japan, the work culture is famously competitive to a fault. Defined by long working hours, the corporate culture in Japan has often been attached to pictures of train marshalls pushing harried passengers into coaches, intersections crowded with employees en-route to work, and even news of deaths by work-related stress and pressures.

In fact, they have a term for it: karoshi, or “death from overwork,” which was coined in the 1970s which pushed Japanese labor unions to demand reduced working hours in the decade that followed.

Japan
(Image: Unsplash/Gio Almonte)

As the pandemic compels companies to adapt to a more flexible remote work environment, the Japanese government now feels the need to enact significant steps in modernizing various industries’ perception of productivity, and shifting towards a healthier work-life balance for employees. Such ideas include more flexible work hours, increased interconnectedness amid remote work, and most notably, a shortened workweek.

According to the Japanese, not only will the extra free day allow citizens to go out and spend, thereby stimulating the economy, it would also give them more time to socialize, possibly meet people, and bear children, which, in one way or another, also solves the country’s declining birth rate.

“During the pandemic, companies have shifted to new ways of operating and they are seeing a gradual increase in productivity,” said Martin Schulz, chief policy economist for Fujitsu, told Deutsche Welle. “Companies are having their employees work from home or remotely, at satellite offices or at their customers’ locations, which can be far more convenient and productive for many.”

But will the potential policy change really result in a more harmonious work efficiency? One landmark study conducted just this month seems to point to that. 

Recent global headlines tell of a scientific study In Iceland where “the world’s largest four-day work-week trial” revealed that reduced work hours does not equate to any tradeoff for companies. Two trials covering about 1.3 percent of the Icelandic workforce showed that slashing weekly shifts to just 35-36 hours without slashing pay led to better employee well-being while productivity remained the same. 

As a result, at least 86 percent of Iceland’s entire workforce now either have reduced hours or flexibility within their contracts to reduce hours.

In Japan’s case, however, crucial impediments remain. Aside from an existing labor shortage, the Japanese government is also faced with convincing decades-old corporations whose reluctance to the idea lies in leaving behind postures that have served them so well for ages. 

(Image: Unsplash/Manuel Cosentino)

Should corporations concede to this, there is also the concern that they might pass the brunt onto their employees, paying them with reduced wages or accuse them of lacking dedication for their work, notwithstanding scientific evidence.

Nonetheless, plans are already on the table, and the Japanese government is really keen on passing the buck for adapting to a post-pandemic world to the employers, not to their employees.

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