Full scale flexible work hours system to begin for national civil servants in fiscal 2016


Japan will introduce a flexible work hours system for national civil servants on a full scale in fiscal 2016 in a bid to address a growing number of employees looking after children or elderly parents.

With work hours varying, managers will need to map out efficient work styles for each workplace, the government said.

From April, the National Personnel Authority will offer separate flextime programs for ordinary government workers and those who are raising children or looking after parents.

Ordinary workers will have five hours of “core time” per day during which they must work. The length of the core time will range from two hours to 4½ hours for workers caring for children or parents, who will also be allowed to take off one weekday per week.

Workers opting for one of the two programs will be required to work 155 hours per four weeks, the same as other workers.

Flextime systems are in use at 27.7 percent of companies in Japan, according to a 2014 Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry survey covering 6,140 companies with 1,000 or more employees. The survey received valid replies from 69.6 percent of those sent questionnaires.

With Japan aiming to create a society in which women play greater roles while achieving a balance between work and family, the full adoption of flextime work for government officials is expected to help such systems reach more private companies, an official of the NPA’s Working Hours and Welfare Division said.

But there are companies that have abandoned flextime work programs.

For example, major trading house Itochu Corp. discontinued its flextime program, introduced in 1995, at the end of September 2012, deciding it was necessary to match work hours with those of business partners working to rebuild operations damaged by the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami.

In addition, Itochu sought to arrange in-house meetings under its flextime system, which also failed to cut back on overtime work, company officials said.

Beginning in May 2014, Itochu banned employees from working overtime between 8 p.m. and 10 p.m. in principle and allowed them to do the work after 5 a.m. the following morning.

As a result, the share of employees who do not leave office before 8 p.m. fell to 7 percent, or less than one-quarter of the level before the system was introduced, and total overtime hours fell about 10 percent, according to a company official.

Whether a company adopts a flextime system or not, “workers need to be aware that they have to work hard during regular hours,” said a personnel department official at Itochu.

Hiroki Sato, a professor at the Graduate School of Strategic Management at Chuo University, said that the prerequisites for the adoption of flextime work were based on quality and quantity of work, with considerable discretion granted to each worker and work assessments based on results.

While praising the flextime system planned by the government for its emphasis on workers’ lives, Sato said, “Before it is put into practice, their workloads should be reviewed.”

As a future task, he said that the length of core time should be shortened so that government officials are able to work more flexibly.