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Japan: Panasonic adopts “optional” four-day working week
Planet Labor, 17 January 2022, n°12856 - www.planetlabor.com

An increasing number of companies in Japan are offering their staff the option of working a 32-hour week, in keeping with recommendations issued by the country’s government in June last year (see article n°12606). The government’s aim, which has become all the more pressing against the backdrop of the pandemic, is not only to free up time for those who want to take up training or change professions, but also to allow people to better divide their time between leisure, family, friends and work. The aim is shared by Panasonic CEO Yuki Kusumi, who announced earlier this month that he wants to “support the well-being of […] employees” by introducing a third day off for the company’s 243,000-strong workforce. Panasonic is not the first Japanese company to take the step of reducing working hours; Yahoo Japan, for example, has been practising the four-day week on a voluntary basis since April 2017. However, despite growing interest, only around 8% of Japanese companies offer staff the option of taking more than two days of guaranteed leave per week, according to the Japanese Ministry of Labour. The obstacles seem to be twofold: on the one hand, the recommendations do not (yet) have the force of law, and on the other hand, wages are still very often rigidly indexed to the number of days worked. Japan’s working population has been in steady decline since 1995, so these new work patterns, which are optional for the time being, should prove essential in efforts to boost productivity, which has been at a low ebb for more than 10 years, as demonstrated by a pilot project run by Microsoft Japan in 2019.