Unpaid overtime is rather common in Asia

For sure I always enjoy browsing through the annually salary guide by Hays (Company specializing in recruitment, placing professional candidates in permanent, temporary and interim jobs) for Asia, because for years it was very interesting for me to see the changes in employment situation not only for Japan, but as well then in direct context with Asia. Although I have solely insights to technical related business areas, for me the content seems rather accurate from what I can judge.
While every year the comment of the lack of bilingual employees is a given, I was surprised this time to see a substantial increase of overtime in the covered areas of China, Singapore and Japan. In the last 12 months 49% percent reported an increase of 5-10 hours per week of overtime, while at the same time 52% will not get paid for the additional overtime. There could be several reasons behind this trend: First simply the Japanese expectation of an employee to work more than the official agreed working hours is now spreading into Asia, which I doubt. Or then as a second possibility, increased global competition sets high pressure on getting many things done in a limited time period, forcing employees to push themselves hard to get their projects done in time. Finally what I see most likely not only for Asia, but the rest of the world as well: The era when an employee was able to work a fixed number of hours per week is gone. Employees are hired and expected to get their job done, not depending then actually on the hours worked.
On the other hand, whether my perceived reality is reflected in the labor law is a different story. Or let me then expand the thought one point further: While now Japan needs to focus on recovery and getting back on track with the economic situation, how strong should be the focus on labor law? What should we focus first: working conditions based strictly on labor law or get the economic situation back on track?

Brought to you by a much better feeling, almost healthy again,

Sibylle Ito (シビル伊藤)

6 thoughts on “Unpaid overtime is rather common in Asia

    • Dear xxx tube,

      thanks for taking time to comment and for your wonderful comment.
      I am looking forward to seeing you here again.

      Best regards,

      Sibylle Ito

    • Dear Cocomino,

      depending on your contract and position with your employer, for some jobs overtime is included, while for some position actually doing unpaid overtime would be actually illegal (still depends on the actual amount). I agree with you there is a lot of grey zone with the overtime work in Japan, especially due to cultural based work rules and expectations from an employee. Most likely I have it easier than you, because when I am taking some days off or leaving the office earlier, I am easily excused, because foreigners seem to have a less strict working moral in the eyes of many Japanese.

      On the other hand, I have seen the other extreme, which hopefully is not so common anymore these days: Working inefficinetly during the normal working hours in order to make sure that one can apply for overtime pay to increase one’s salary.

      Personally at the end I believe most important point is that a job gets done in the shortest possible time, while at the same time keeping a work-life balance.

      Best regards,


  1. I favor the labor law standards, personally I think its vital to be upheld. That is my husbands field of law (bengoshi) some of the stories that we’ve talked about (that he could talk about with me) I truly believe “life-work-blance” needs to come first. I think getting the economic infrastructure back on track and hopefully soaring is also vital (I can’t wait to see the new Japan emerge).

    The situation now is so complex, It’s really hard for me to make a broad statement.

    • Dear Elle Maire,

      I fully agreee with you that the situation is presently so complex that there are no easy answers. Personally I try to have a “life-work-balance” but sometims work takes over too much :O

      All the best from grey, cloudy Tokyo,


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