Premium Friday campaign seeks to curb Japan’s long work hours

Bloomberg

The country that coined the word karoshi (death by overwork) wants companies to let workers finish early on the last Friday of every month so that they can go out and have fun.

In an effort to curb excessive work hours and to spur consumption, the government and business groups will launch the Premium Friday campaign on Feb. 24.

Although it’s unknown how many companies will participate, the nation’s biggest business lobby, Keidanren, is encouraging its more than 1,300 member companies to take part.

One indication of just how tough it is to get change in Japan’s rigid work practices: the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry, which is pushing the idea, hasn’t decided yet if its officials will get to join in.

However, METI chief Hiroshige Seko said, “I’m giving my secretaries a strict order not to put in any appointments after 3 p.m.” on the first Premium Friday.

There’s a clear relationship between leisure time, holidays and spending, said Toshihiro Nagahama, chief economist at Dai-ichi Life Research Institute in Tokyo. If most workers, including those at small and medium-size firms participate, private consumption could rise by about ¥124 billion on each Premium Friday, according to his calculations.

That may provide some boost to private consumption, which makes up about 60 percent of the economy.

However, Nagahama said he is concerned workers at smaller companies may have difficulty leaving early, or that they will simply have to make the time up on other days, limiting the campaign’s impact.

Japanese workers typically use just half of their annual paid leave entitlements. In part to work around this problem and enforce time away from work, Japan has 16 annual public holidays, more than countries including the U.S. and France.