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Panasonic has announced plans to offer employees in Japan a four-day workweek in an effort to improve productivity and attract better employees, according to a new report from Nikkei Asia. The move comes after the Japanese government made official recommendations to private employers in 2021, including a shorter workweek.
The four-day workweek has taken various forms around the world, from Finland to New Zealand. Sometimes the shorter weeks just mean employers are extending the four days of work while keeping something close to 40 hours. Other times, the companies will just offer a shorter week with fewer total hours so that people can pursue more free time or more education.
“We must support the well-being of our employees,” President and CEO Yuki Kusumi said recently, according to Nikkei.
Panasonic hopes to give employees more time to pursue their personal interests, whether it’s volunteer work or a side job. Details are ironed out by each operating company.
Only 8% of Japanese companies offered more than two guaranteed days off per week in a 2020 survey by the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare. Those that do are usually looking to help employees meet the demands of their personal lives, such as Yahoo Japan and Sompo Himawari Life Insurance, which in 2017 began offering a third day off only to those who care for children. or elderly relatives.
Companies that have attempted a shorter workweek, while maintaining a competitive wage, have generally seen no loss of productivity. In fact, tech companies have found that working fewer hours often leads to high productivity, not to mention greater employee satisfaction. When Microsoft tried a four-day workweek in Japan in 2019, productivity skyrocketed by 40%, according to the Washington Post.
Despite having a reputation for a workaholic culture in the US, Japanese workers actually work fewer hours than their US counterparts, according to the most recent data from the US. Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. The US ranks 11th for most hours worked by the average worker among the OECD countries, while Japan ranks 26th. The top five included, in order: Colombia, Mexico, Costa Rica, South Korea and Russia.
For generations, Americans have been promised a shorter work week. In fact, economic experts of the 1960s were sure that we would now have only 16-hour workweeks, with robots doing most of the work. Your only problem was what to do with all your free time.
An article that appeared in a North Carolina newspaper about: Nov 26, 1967 promised it all:
Those hungry for leisure can take heart from political scientist Sebastian de Grazia’s prediction that by the year 2000 the average working week will average 31 hours and perhaps 21 hours. Twenty years later, working hours may have decreased to 26 or even 16.
But what are people going to do with all that free time? The prospects may not be cheerful.
As De Grazia sees it: “There is reason to fear, as some do, that leisure, forced leisure, will cause the restless tick of boredom, idleness, immorality and increased personal violence. If the root cause is identified as automation and the preference for higher intelligence, non-automated jobs may increase, but they will carry the stigma of stupidity. Men would rather not work than accept them. Those who do accept it will increasingly become a politically inferior class.”
A possible solution: a separation of income and work; perhaps a guaranteed annual wage to “provide the means for a life of leisure for all those who think they have the temperament”.
Where has all that free time gone? Your boss used it to buy his second home.
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