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An increasing number of companies are starting unique leave programs aimed at improving employee morale.

Software developer Cybozu Inc., for example, allows employees to leave their jobs for up to six years to study abroad or take other sabbaticals, because it believes the program, introduced in May 2012, helps employees accumulate outside experience that can be used when they return.

Etsuko Nagayama, 28, will leave for Botswana in mid-January as a member of the Japan International Cooperation Agency’s Japan Overseas Cooperation Volunteers.

“I decided to go because of the program,” Nagayama said. “I have a sense of security because I know there are people waiting” for her to return.

A considerable number of young Cybozu employees had quit in the past to pursue new careers or study abroad, only to return at a later date.

“We wanted to support workers’ challenges but had limits as a company for doing so,” said Shiho Onda, leader of the personnel department, as she explained the background of the rehiring program. “We thus decided to create a system that makes employees feel at ease about returning.”

Employees who quit Cybozu under the program receive a passport with a message from the company saying, “We look forward to meeting you again after new experiences,” and a certificate of leave.

In 2012, 47.1 percent of the nation’s employees took paid leave, down 2.2 points from the previous year. The dip broke an upward trend and remains well below the government’s target of 70 percent by 2020, according to the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry.

While Japanese workers in general are still reluctant to take holidays, Recruit Career Co., an outplacement firm, has introduced an “anniversary leave system” that pays employees ¥50,000 when they take four or more consecutive days off.

Many employees use the system when they celebrate certain anniversaries, on certification examination days or when they have a child.

“We introduced the program because we can enhance our customer services if we work in a spirited manner,” said Harumasa Higuchi of the personnel department.

Less than 20 percent of Recruit Career’s employees would use their annual paid leave because they scheduled their holidays to match those of their clients. Nowadays, more than 90 percent are using their holidays under the anniversary system.

Recruit Career’s Toshiki Nishihata, 30, used the system to take a cycling tour of Okinawa with his colleague. The system “prompts us to take leave because we feel it’s a loss if we don’t.”

Opt Inc., an online advertising agency, pays ¥30,000 to employees who take 10 days off in a row. The allowance is available every three years for those who have been with the company at least four years.

The allowance program has created “an atmosphere in which workers cooperate with each other more strongly than before” when colleagues are on vacation and “find it easier to take a leave of absence,” said spokeswoman Saiko Fujita.

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