Health ministry encourages firms to help workers plan for retirement

Kyodo

Company-run programs to help employees get a head start on preparing for retirement are flourishing in Japan as the country’s average life expectancy continues to grow.

The government is also getting on board, supporting companies that promote seminars that prompt employees to examine whether they will have enough to live on post-retirement and encourage them to consider new opportunities once they’ve stopped working.

Dai-ichi Life Insurance Co. holds seminars for employees aged 50 to 55 at its head office and at branches across Japan.

At a seminar held at its Nagoya branch in September, some 30 participants assessed their work, family life and involvement in the local community, and wrote out in detail how they plan to spend their days after they retire.

The program was aimed at helping workers recognize as early as possible the difference between their ideal lifestyle and a more realistic version, in order to manage their expectations and help them find fulfilment.

Participants were particularly interested in the income and expenditure simulator.

In some cases, monthly living expenses, including tax payments, spending on medical treatment and other unexpected outlays, turned out to be larger than retirement allowances and other income combined, prompting some participants to consider re-employment.

“I was shown my reality,” a 53-year-old man said. “I was also able to ascertain the amount of public pension and retirement money I have available, and now I have a base from which to plan.”

Japan remained near the top of the world rankings for life expectancy in 2017, with women averaging 87.26 years and men 81.09 years, respectively, according to recent data from the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare.

Workers should “start preparations for retirement at 50 years old at the latest,” said Ryoji Yamaguchi, 62, who works as a career consultant for Dai-ichi Life and other companies.

Company employees generally start to lose opportunities for promotion, or change what they seek in life, at about 50 years of age, according to Yamaguchi. He recommends that firms create in-house opportunities for workers to start thinking about their lives, including ways of working or what they live for, during their 30s and 40s.

According to a government survey, 38.4 percent of business establishments had career consulting programs in fiscal 2017, up about 15 percentage points from five years earlier. But many small- and mid-size companies were reluctant to introduce them, citing the unclear benefits or concerns over how much time and money would be needed to implement them.

In June, the labor ministry established service desks in Tokyo and Osaka to answer inquiries from companies and began dispatching consultants free of charge to advise them on career-formation programs for employees, including for new graduates.

According to company employees in their 50s who have benefited in the past from in-house training programs supported by the government, such programs gave them an opportunity to reflect on their careers and set short- and long-term life goals. Many said the programs helped boost their motivation.

“Reviewing their careers and plans for the future not only provides individuals with fulfillment but also contributes to the revitalization of companies,” said Yukiya Hidaka, a labor ministry official in charge of career support.

“We hope companies will make use of career consulting programs as a gateway for relearning and for the training of personnel.”