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Major firms in Japan pilot reduced working hours, more days off under labor reforms

President and CEO of Microsoft Japan Takuya Hirano speaks in an interview with the Mainichi Shimbun in Minato Ward, Tokyo, on April 22, 2019. (Mainichi/Akane Imamura)

TOKYO -- Company measures to improve employees' work-life balance under Japan's "work-style reform" initiative are spreading, as firms encourage workers with or without heavy family commitments alike to reduce hours on the job.

From August 2019, Microsoft Japan Co. will begin a four-day work week trial for all employees. Mitsubishi Jisho Property Management Co. reduced working hours in fiscal 2018 while paying its entire overtime pay savings to employees. By adjusting labor time, the company aims to create an improved working environment where fewer hours are used more efficiently.

Microsoft Japan will test their four-day work week initiative for the duration of August. The firm will provide financial support of up to 100,000 yen (about $914) for employees to go on family trips or develop new skills. Salaries will be unaffected. Takuya Hirano, president and CEO of Microsoft Japan, commented on the scheme, "Work a short time, rest well and learn a lot. It's necessary to have an environment that allows you to feel your purpose in life and make a greater impact at work," He added, "I want employees to think about and experience how they can achieve the same results with 20% less working time."

Meanwhile, as part of an efficiency drive, Mitsubishi Jisho Property reduced overtime in fiscal 2017 by 30% from fiscal 2015 levels, reducing overtime pay by some 180 million yen (around $1.64 million). At the same time, profits rose 20%. Amid concerns a fall in overtime would translate to a drop in employee earnings, the company returned the entire reduced amount through bonuses and other payments in fiscal 2018. A representative said, "Employee motivation went up; they saw something back for their efforts."

Dentsu Inc., Japan's largest PR and advertising firm, introduced its "Input Holiday" scheme from June 2018 to encourage workers to spend time with family or engage in personal development. Under the scheme, the company chooses one day a month as an additional day off for all employees.

From April, Sumitomo Life Insurance Co. has made productivity one of its criteria in personnel evaluations. It has increased positive assessments for employees who have become able to produce the same amount of work over a shorter period of time.

Although 3-day weekends and shortened working hours initiatives are appearing in more industries, most measures remain aimed at those caring for children or elderly relatives. Yoshie Komuro, head of employment consultancy firm Work Life Balance Inc., has a detailed understanding of work-style reform.

"Work-style reform isn't about employee welfare for the socio-economically vulnerable; it's a plan to help companies stay competitive and survive in a society with a declining population. If we improve working environments, then employees' quality of life will improve, creating a virtuous cycle (for employers)," she said.

(Japanese original by Akane Imamura, Integrated Digital News Center)

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