Japan's long working hours are killing productivity

Good morning everyone,

It's looking more and more like rainy season will be starting soon (I know the weatherman said it started about 10 days ago, but it hasn't rained since...ha ha!) Clouds will roll in Tuesday and the rest of the week after that is looking grey and rainy.

The government's "Realization of Work Style Reform" action plan was finalized in late March, and it states that overtime work in especially busy months should be kept under 100 hours. To put it another way, for a whole month, an employee could be spending every waking hour working while getting just enough sleep to stay alive. The upper limit on annual overtime was pegged at 720 hours, but this does not include coming in to work on days-off, so in reality, the policy allows 960 hours of overtime per year.

Perhaps the government arrived at this unsatisfactory (and ridiculous) conclusion under pressure from Japan's business sector, which tends to view long hours at work as an essential ingredient for growth and development. However, is this really the case?

Clients choose Japanese companies, not because of their hard-working reputation, but because of their high technical skill. Don't you think that if you polish this skill even more you can open up a big lead over your competitors to survive? Shouldn't you try to create conditions where every engineer can keep developing their skills?

One such company gets a lot of government contracts. While every major project requires a certain number of certified professionals, the company usually didn't have enough of these workers to take these contracts. As a result, it depended on taking small jobs that don't require certified experts for its sales. As small projects require as much paperwork as big ones, the office workload rose as the firm took on more of the small jobs. One hundred hours-plus of overtime per month had become the norm.

However, when they started to reform their work style, the employees became able to set aside the time needed to study. More workers passed the necessary professional certification tests, and that in turn allowed the company to bid on projects requiring high skills, which have higher profit margins, while the ratio of finalized orders also rose overall. In the end, the company managed to rake in more profits on a smaller number of projects than before.

After this, the company decided to reform their work style across the board. The result was not just a decline in growing overtime hours; profits jumped from 600 million yen to 4 billion yen.

In addition to the overtime cuts, the work environment also changed as it became unsurprising for men at the company to take child care leave. Also, as employee evaluations refocused on awarding those who could get a lot done in a short time, women also became more willing to seek promotion to managerial posts, among other changes.

Japan has the highest percentage of workers spending very long hours on the job among the Group of Seven nations, but it has the lowest productivity per hour of labor. Japan's business sector needs to let go of the idea that "long work hours are the way we win," and they should realize that "long work hours are the reason we're losing."

What do you think? Is this thinking too modern for Japan Inc.?

Have a great day!

PS Tomorrow's blog will be lighter...maybe about sweets or something 'H'...ha ha!

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