Companies in workaholic Japan are getting creative with ways to get their employees to leave early.
The government has launched the “Premium Friday” campaign encouraging firms to let workers out a few hours early on the last Friday of each month.
Euronews Editorial Project Manager Javier Villagarcía has lived and worked in Japan. Here he gives us his impression of how the country’s working culture will be affected.
Euronews: You have worked in Japan. How much pressure is there to do overtime?
Javier Villagarcía, Editorial Project Manager, Euronews: There is a lot of pressure on Japanese office workers, known as ‘salarymen’ among themselves.
You could say that doing overtime is part of the unwritten rules of Japanese society, it’s cultural. Employees also tend to not leave work before their managers and, often, when the manager decides or ‘proposes’ that workers go for a get together in the evening, for dinner or drinks, they feel obliged to do so.
It means your days can be extremely long. If you consider that most of the ‘salarymen’ commute in the morning and evening, spending a long time on public transport, that makes their working lives extremely tiring.
Euronews: Why is Japan like this?
This is nothing new. It is part of the legendary Japanese DNA of the culture of effort and perfection.
Another example among the bad habits related to overworking in Japan is the fact that almost no one uses all their holiday allowance. In Japan, you have an average of 19 days of holiday per year, but most of the office workers take little more than half that. To take any more is frowned upon.
Euronews: What happens if you don’t work overtime?
You would be considered as someone that does not work properly or that could do better, someone that disrupts the working spirit of the group, too.
An employee that breaks the “unwritten” rules would come under lots of pressure from the management and even from their own colleagues to fall in line with everyone else’s behaviour.
This person could say goodbye to any promotion and would be pushed towards the exit door.
Euronews: So how do Japanese workers feel about having to do this?
Everyone complains about the long working hours, but always in private, never publicly.
They complain they don’t have a life.
From Monday to Friday they spend their existence working and commuting and, when the weekend arrives, they are exhausted.
This explains Japan’s low birthrate and also why women are likely to stay at home after having children.
Euronews: So are they happy about the ‘Premium Friday’ idea?
They must be very excited, but hiding it. The pressure to work long hours is still there and it may be that not all managers, especially the older ones, are going to follow this “Premium Friday” idea.