What is missing for work-life-balance in Japan


While at first it might seem counter-intuitive, but creating work-life-balance at the work place would help Japanese companies to get out of the economic downturn. I had attended a seminar by Kamioka san from Mashr Consulting about the effects on the bottom line of a company, if they were to implement work-life-balance. At first the image might be solely on creating a work environment with low or no overtime, plus potentially a company that is attracting female workers. Based on the seminar from Kamioka san I understand now that at the end work-life-balance comes down to increasing motivation and productivity, which results in lower costs for the company: The same effect on the needed profit figure like an increase of sales turnover. Overall this seminar has been very helpful to make sense of several observations I have made in regard to working in Japan.
Many companies are struggling to increase their sales turnover due to many reasons, while forgetting that internal changes can be more effective at the moment. Allowing higher level of motivation of the employees can create wonders. Motivated employees have the best interests of the company at heart, because it comes naturally to continuously improve what you are happily doing. In an era of knowledge workers one should not forget the key lies in effective working employees. Having fun while doing what you love to do, isn’t this what a job is supposed to be?
In the last few years salaries in Japan have not be increasing, but decreasing. Looking at the decreasing headcount at many companies, more work has to be done with fewer workers. While I had never been exposed to overtime payment in Switzerland or in the US, in Japan it is quite often that an employee can ask for overtime work to finish up his task. Legally this means that the hourly wage is then bumped up by 25% (during the work week). Depending on the amount of work done, it can be a substantial aspect in cost accounting. Furthermore personally I have heard recently of many cases, when employees in order to increase their monthly income slow down their work speed during the 8 hours with “normal” pay in order to expand their total income with the overtime work. I believe for quite many companies it would make sense to review their salary structure in order to reduce unnecessary overtime cost. As a side effect wouldn’t it be nice to focus to get the job done quickly so that one can go home soon, instead of creating enough reasons to stay longer?
To be honest I am still amazed how little attention is given to change a company from within in Japan. Basic tools like flextime, working at home and cross training should be available, but are commonly unheard of at Japanese companies. Flextime is still very unusual in Japan. Although some few companies are considering in some cases partial work at home, these options came only into consideration after last year’s disaster and the increase of employees experiencing depression at work. Just imagine how many employees could take some time off from work, if cross training existed in Japan! It is rather common that each employee is focusing only on his job duties, knowing and understanding little of the actual work content of his co-workers. Therefore it is quite common, if someone takes a day off all his/her work gets piled up, as the co-workers have not been trained to take over. Not surprisingly a high amount of guilt is felt, when others have to deal with some additional load they don’t know the necessary details. I truly believe that cross training would improve customer service as well. Instead of “I am sorry, “Yasumi san” is not here today, but will reply tomorrow” could be replaced with “How can I help you while “Yasumi san” is out of the office.”
Making a long story short: The way I see it with work-life-balance a company would become more productive, increase their profit, while employees can enjoy guilt free vacations. Wouldn’t this be great for the Japanese economy?

Brought to you by Sibylle Ito (伊藤シビル)

P.S. For those interested below is a a part of the flyer of the next event by Kamioka san with CCH Japan on April 17 (which I sadly cannot attend, because I will be abroad)

One thought on “What is missing for work-life-balance in Japan

  1. This is most interesting, for just as I was about to suggest cross-training as a way for others to fill in the gaps when someone is on vacation, I remembered the new General Electric corporate philosophy of NOT continuting to make all employees know about everything, but have each specialize and become very “deep” experts in just one aspect of the company’s work. Go figure!

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