Japan has proposed shifting to a standard week of four working days to allow employees more time for study, with their family and to socialise.
The recommendation is contained in the country’s annual economic policy guidelines, and marks a sharp change in attitudes for Japan’s notorious work culture.
Under Japan’s recommendation, employers will be encouraged to shift to flexible four-day weeks, partly to encourage younger workers to spend more and to have more time to create families.
The Japanese work culture has previously been considered one of the worst for burnout in the world, with workers often sleep deprived due to overtime. In fact, Japan has its own word for working to the point of death: karoshi.
The term was coined in 1978 to refer to the growing number of people suffering from heart attacks and strokes due to working too hard.
The problem hasn’t shifted in the decades since then, with a 2018 report finding workers took only 52.4 per cent of the paid leave they were entitled to. Workers most often cited guilt for their reluctance to access their entitlements.
However, Japan has been attempting to address the overwork culture in recent years. Then-prime minister Shinzo Abe introduced a work reform bill in 2018 which included caps on excessive working hours and a requirement that employers designate at least five days off work for employees with more than 10 days of untapped leave.
Japan’s proposal comes after Spain unveiled a three-year, voluntary four-day work week experiment, while New Zealand and Finland are also mulling four-day weeks.
Microsoft also conducted a four-day week experiment in Japan in August 2019, which found that productivity actually increased by 40 per cent. Additionally, electricity usage decreased by 23 per cent and staff were 92 per cent happier.