The Japan Business Federation, or Keidanren, plans to call on member companies to consider devising steps to develop high value-added products and services in a bid to improve labor productivity.

The policy, to be included in the top business lobby’s management-side guidelines for next year’s shuntō spring wage talks, reflects the group’s view that it would be difficult for companies to grow sustainably only by reducing working hours, an initiative that has been at the center of discussions for work-style reforms in the country.

Faced with the need to improve labor productivity in Japan, which ranks last among the Group of Seven advanced economies in the category, Keidanren aims to create work environments that enable both companies and employees to perform to their full potential.

The largest employers’ group in the country confirmed a draft of its guidelines for the 2020 shuntō negotiations at a meeting on Monday. It will announce the guidelines in late January.

“Work-style reforms are not just about restricting overtime,” Keidanren Chairman Hiroaki Nakanishi said at a news conference on Monday.

The draft guidelines labeled work-style reform efforts that have already been made by many companies, such as reducing work hours and encouraging workers to take days off, as phase one measures.

Claiming that increasing labor efficiency is not enough to raise labor productivity, the draft guidelines said companies should carry out discussions on phase two measures to find work-styles that could lead to the creation of new products and services.

Specifically, Keidanren plans to call on member companies to improve support for workers to shape their careers autonomously with the aim of fostering human resources capable of dealing with rapid changes in economic circumstances, society and technologies.

The draft guidelines urged companies to strive to enhance their employees’ motivation. One example included giving them opportunities to take on challenges through in-house application systems for starting new businesses.

Keidanren also proposed in the draft guidelines that companies should consider devising measures to provide financial assistance to employees for taking outside courses to acquire new knowledge and skills to deal with the rapid rise of digital technology and other changes.

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