• Kyodo


Michika Kato, 27, a mother of a 1-year-old boy, works for up to two hours on her computer at home while her baby is playing on his own or sleeping.

Kato, who works at Mitsui Sumitomo Insurance Co. and is currently on maternity leave, can’t find a slot at day care for her son so she has no clue as to when she can return to work full time. The shortage of day care slots remains a serious problem, leaving many children on waiting lists.

“It is a good opportunity to have a glimpse at how everyone in the office is doing,” Kato said.

Kato is one of 10 Mitsui Sumitomo employees who work for a few hours at home during leave. The company started asking its employees on child care leave in April whether they are interested in helping out, such as by making sales brochures during busy periods.

“It’s aimed at ensuring their smooth return to work but it also helps us with our work,” said a Mitsui Sumitomo official.

More companies are offering similar schemes to help employees maintain their work skills while on leave to facilitate their return to work. Still experts warn that companies need to make sure they aren’t forcing them to work.

Sompo Japan Nipponkoa Insurance Inc. also introduced a similar program in January.

Satoko Watanabe, 30, used to spend an hour or so at home for data entry work before returning to work in April.

“I didn’t feel pressured when I started the work. It helped me remember how I used to work,” Watanabe said.

Both companies said the new scheme helps those on child care leave keep in touch with their supervisors and colleagues and make it easier for them to come back to work.

The government provides the child care leave benefit equivalent to up to 67 percent of a worker’s monthly pay. Those wishing to work at home can do so as a temporary job for up to 80 hours a month. The pay from the temporary job is added to the benefit unless the total amount exceeds 80 percent of a worker’s monthly pay.

The maximum period of child care leave was extended to two years from 18 months starting this month, given that more than 26,000 children are awaiting enrollment in day care facilities.

Kimie Iwata, chairman of the Japan Institute for Women’s Empowerment and Diversity Management, said extending the leave period could make it difficult to return to work and providing a wider range of options for ways of working should help reduce the difficulty.

Shingo Tsumura, a 37-year-old employee at a technology company, did a similar short-hour job for about two months from last December while he was on child care leave.

It’s because there was work he wanted to tackle on his own.

“It was tough. But I found it helpful because I wanted to continue with my project while taking care of my child,” Tsumura said.

Yuri Tazawa, president of telecommuting consultancy Telework Management Inc., said short-hour work fills a gap in work style between full time work and being idle.

But Tazawa also warned that the new work style should not be used as an excuse to force people on leave to work.

“Based on employees’ requests, some (work) conditions, such as strict monitoring of their working hours to prevent overwork, are necessary,” Tazawa said.

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