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Will 'Shining Monday' Improve Productivity of Japan's Workforce? The initiative, by the ministry of economy, allows employees to take Monday mornings off once a month

By Komal Nathani

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The government of Japan is helping employees beat Monday Blues, thanks to the government's initiative, "Shining Monday". The initiative, by the ministry of economy, allows employees to take Monday mornings off once a month.

In Japan, the corporate work culture is so intense that there have been cases of people dying for overwork. There is actually a word for it, which is "Karoshi".

The island country, known for its competence in technology, might have topped the charts in becoming the world's second largest stock market, but the country's productivity index is an all-time low. Japan is considered capping monthly overtime at 100 hours, and the average working hour per day is not less than 12 hours a day. According to a 2018 data of OECD Compendium of Productivity Indicators, the country has the lowest productivity among G-7 nations.

The nation's long-working hours routine is not a new phenomenon, as it was first recorded in 1960s, but the rising cases of "karoshi" (death by overwork) over the past decade have put the spotlight again on employee's work-life balance.

In 2013, 31-year-old journalist Miwa Sado logged 159 hours of overtime in one month at the news network NHK, and died of heartv failure because of sleepless nights. And in 2015, a 24-year-old employee of one of the largest Japanese advertising companies, Dentsu, died after jumping off a balcony in a company dorm room, where she lived, after working for more than 100 hours.

A 2016 report by Japan government had examined karoshi cases and their cause of death. It showed that more than 20 per cent of people in a survey of 10,000 Japanese workers said they worked at least 80 hours of overtime a month.

A Ray of Hope

To improve its productivity index, the Shinzō Abe-government has been encouraging companies to reduce long working hours, with "Shining Monday" being the latest effort.

The proposal is part of a broader plan to encourage companies to cut down on employees' overtime and get them out of the office earlier while also tackling the persistent problem of karoshi, or death by overwork.

Last year, the Japan government had launched its Premium Friday scheme, which allows employees to leave early from their office after lunch on Friday. This plan was devised to reduce work stress of employees and to help couples have children because Japan is facing the problem of shrinking population. But a study this year by Japan's economy ministry highlighted that merely 11.2 per cent of employees have taken the advantage of this policy, while nearly 89.2 per cent of employees were aware of this scheme.

Is it Hard to Change?

In Japan, the professional culture is based on input and not output. For employers, the way to measure employees is to check their full schedules of meetings, onerous paperwork and the other tasks done by them rather than output-based work. The long hours and late nights at work demonstrate the devotion of employees to the organization and commitment to team members.

To maintain work-life balance, Yoshie Komuro, social entrepreneur and the managing director of Work Life Balance, a consulting company talked about the inclusion of more women at workplace, in her Tedx talk on "Life Balance" in November 2015.

"Companies should actively hire young people as full-time employees, and hire women who need to work on limited schedules. I have been running my company without overtime for the past six years. All the best employees in my firm are actually women, who work on their limited schedules," she says.

"As the out-of-work experience diminishes the ability to bring new ideas to work decreases. No matter how much time they spend at a meeting, their lack of new ideas means the meeting wouldn't go anywhere," she adds.

Komal Nathani

Former Correspondent, Entrepreneur Asia Pacific

A firm believer of hard work and patience. Love to cover stories that hold a potential to change the momentum of business world. Currently, a part of all-women web team of Entrepreneur’s Asia Pacific edition to jig the wheel of business journalism!


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