One company in Japan is looking at a shorter work week – a surprise given that the country is famous for its intense work ethic. What’s behind the move?
In a culture famous for it’s strong work ethic and intensely long hours, the announcement this week that Yahoo is considering a shorter work week for its staff in Japan re-ignites the debate about how far we can – and should – push against cultural expectations about work.
Despite the fact the nation’s working culture runs so deep that they have a word to describe “dying due to overwork,” it appears that the demands of an ageing population, and expectations that younger generations should take an active role in the care of the elderly, has had a tangible influence on at least one global company’s policy.
As reported by the Japan Times, Yahoo Japan plans to implement a new four-day work week for its 5800 employees over the next few years. The initiative is part of efforts to prevent their employees from quitting in order to care for ageing parents.
Starting in October, the company will introduce additional programs to assist workers with caring duties or other responsibilities. These include a commuting allowance for employees who live far away and an extra five days a month to work from home.
“Working hours and labor productivity is an important theme in business management, and there are issues to address, but I wish to try,” Yahoo Japan CEO Manabu Miyasaka told Yahoo news.
The company’s new efforts speak to the multifaceted issue of how to improve the work-life balance and wellbeing of employees in an increasingly fast-paced and hyper-connected age. It’s the notion of a permanent day that could essentially be allocated as ‘carer’s leave’ that might have the most powerful implications for how we think about the potential benefits of a shorter work week in the western world.
Along with benefits such as increased productivity, morale, wellbeing for workers and higher retention rates for companies, it might also be the key to creating structural change to society’s still highly unbalanced allocation of work and care.
‘It’s not just about getting women into work, keeping them there and paying them well,” suggests Madeline White in an article for Sydney Morning Herald. “It’s about getting men to go home.”
Her argument? That freeing up an extra day for caring duties might encourage women working part-time to extend their hours, and men to take care of the kids on their extra day off.
The piece references a 2012 study by the Diversity Council that recorded that 79 per cent of young fathers said that they would like to try a compressed work week, but only a quarter did. This data supports the suggestion that while many men would like to step into a more active caring role, few feel able to extricate themselves from the current system.
Managing director of HR think tank Reventure, Lindsay McMillan, agrees with the need to re-assess how we approach the demands of life outside of work: “I think the best thing CEOs or business owners can do is not penalise their workers for their care demands – for men, as well as women.”
Contrary to what you might expect, the shorter work week is actually more likely to be the remit of smaller companies. CNN Money reports that 14 per cent of small companies in America make it available to all or most of their workers, while only 5 per cent of large companies do the same.
And although instituting such a policy comes with the responsibility to ensure that it complies with laws regarding overtime and holiday pay, the benefits extend to everyone.
A shorter work week has the most pronounced benefits when it applies to all employees. It means that those with external obligations don’t feel the pressure to stay at the office despite themselves out of fear that they’ll miss out on career opportunities.
The rest of us can spend quality time recharging for another highly productive week.