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Nagoya ad startup uses bonus boost to discourage overtime

Chunichi Shimbun

An online advertising startup has adopted a unique method to achieve zero overtime in its workplace by paying a higher bonus to employees who have reduced their work hours after quitting time, a move likely to draw attention as more Japanese try to achieve a better work-life balance.

During a typical day recently at Quartet Communications Co., staff began preparing to leave their Nagoya office when music started playing at 6 p.m.

“I’m happy that I get a higher bonus for leaving early,” said a male employee in his 30s before quickly heading out the door. The company’s 40 employees had completely vacated the office within 30 minutes.

According to Vorkers, a company that runs a job website, the average employee at an advertising agency works 78.6 hours of overtime a month.

Quartet Communications had always had little overtime, with a monthly average of 9.5 hours per employee in 2016, but the company managed to reduce the average to just 3.5 hours in January.

The secret to achieving close to zero overtime is the salary system that the company introduced with December’s bonus payment. If an employee has less overtime than the company’s average, part of the reduced overtime cost will be added to the bonus.

To make sure the reduction in working hours does not affect business results, the company incorporated a new system in January to evaluate how much effort staff put in to achieve their goals.

“I want to reward employees who can raise their efficiency and reduce their overtime hours rather than those who dawdle,” said Daisuke Tsutsumi, the 33-year-old president of Quartet Communications.

Established in 2011, the company specializes in product listing ads, which allow sponsors to display their advertisements on a user’s screen in connection to keyword searches in Google and Yahoo.

In the online advertising industry, staff often need to respond to clients’ requests to edit and revise an ad outside business hours, creating an environment of long working hours.

Since Quartet Communications had limited funds, it sought to reduce labor costs as much as possible, deciding from the start to become a company that does not engage in overtime.

To dissuade employees from working overtime, the company only responds to customer inquiries between 10 a.m. and 6 p.m.

When posting an advertisement, the important thing is to find out which keywords are effective. This requires the staff to check the browsing history for the advertisement for many hours.

However, the startup company developed a system that analyzes keywords automatically, enhancing work efficiency.

Addressing long work hours will be one of the key themes in the 2017 shunto annual spring wage negotiations, after the overwork-induced suicide of a female employee at the Dentsu Inc. advertising agency drew widespread scrutiny.

According to the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry, 20.6 percent of large companies and 9.8 percent of small and medium-size companies have employees who work more overtime than the standard 45 hours a month across all industries.

“It is difficult for companies to reduce overtime if their wage system is based on the premise that employees work overtime,” said Takuya Hoshino, an economist at Dai-ichi Life Research Institute Inc. “They will need to discuss ways to change the system to one that values work results.”

This section, appearing Tuesdays, features topics and issues from the Chubu region covered by the Chunichi Shimbun. The original article was published Feb. 17.