National

Japanese workers feel guilty taking time off and use fewer holidays than their international peers: survey

by Alex Martin

Staff Writer

Japanese workers ranked the lowest in using paid vacation days and had the highest ratio of those who felt guilty doing so, according to an annual survey of workers from around the world.

A survey released Monday by the Japan arm of the online travel agent Expedia.com showed that Japanese only used 50 percent of their vacation days owed, placing them at the bottom of the list for the second consecutive year. It also showed that 63 percent of Japanese felt guilty for taking paid leave, ranking first among the 15,081 respondents aged 18 and older. Workers from 30 countries responded to the survey, conducted from Sept. 4 to 15.

The results are a somber reminder of how efforts by the government and the corporate sector to re-examine Japan’s notoriously rigid working culture may have some way to go. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has called for reforming the nation’s employment practices, targeting long working hours and the wage gap between regular and nonregular workers.

The issue of long working hours has been dragged back into the national spotlight after a series of karōshi (death by overwork) cases at high-profile companies made headlines.

In October, public broadcaster NHK admitted that the death of a 31-year-old reporter in 2013 was linked to her working conditions. The reporter, who died of heart failure, logged 159 hours of overtime and took only two days off in the month leading up to her death.

The survey cited “a lack of staff” and “colleagues not taking days off” as some of the reasons for not taking holidays, suggesting workers worry about delays in meeting their responsibilities and inconveniencing peers. At 49 percent, Japan ranked highest in the ratio of workers who said they spend paid holidays on short-term vacation.

The poll also showed that Japanese had a difficult time switching off — 22 percent checked their work email during holidays, the highest among the nations surveyed.

It also suggested a lack of communication may be behind the phenomenon: 33 percent, which also ranked at the top of the poll, said they “did not know” whether their bosses were supportive of employees taking paid vacations.

But the results are by no means evidence that Japanese didn’t want to take vacation days. To the contrary, the No. 1 criteria Japanese cited when considering a career change was “getting more vacation days.”

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