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Taro Kono says work-life balance and a lack of fulfillment are the likely sources for a lack of motivation among young male bureaucrats, adding that the government will strive to gain a better understanding of the issue, with 1 in 7 saying they intend to leave their jobs within a few years.

“We need to analyze why things are being that way and what we need to change…. I think it’s important to make the workstyle of Kasumigaseki more visible,” Kono, minister in charge of civil service reform, said during an interview with media outlets on Thursday, referring to the Tokyo district where many government ministries are located.

“We will be able to identify problems and what needs to improve if we can visualize the current work situation.”

According to a survey conducted on about 45,000 government officials last November and December, 14.7 percent of males under the age of 30 were planning to call it quits within the next three years.

In a multiple-choice question on reasons why they want to leave the jobs, 49.4 percent of those male government officials responded that they want more attractive jobs that lead to self-enrichment. In addition, 39.7 percent mentioned low pay while 34 percent said long hours on the job makes it difficult to balance work and family.

As for female government officials under 30, 9.7 percent said they intend to quit within a few years. The reasons they cited include difficulty in balancing work and home due to long hours (47 percent) and their preference for more attractive jobs that lead to self-development (44.4 percent).

One of the notoriously time-consuming jobs for bureaucrats is to prepare the government's answers to questions from lawmakers during Diet sessions. Those questions could come in the day before the session, so bureaucrats often have to stay late into the wee hours, with hordes of taxis lurking outside government buildings to ferry them home after train services shut down for the night.

With an eye toward that problem, Kono said he has ordered a full report on the hours bureaucrats spend at their ministries in October and November.

Government ministries and agencies are also losing their edge as a popular workplace among young job-seekers. The number of applicants for the fiscal 2020 national civil service exam targeting elite prospects dropped 3.3 percent to 16,730, marking a decline for a fourth year in a row.

After being tapped as administrative reform minister last month, Taro Kono has wasted little time in waging war on emblems of Japan’s bureaucratic red tape — hanko personal seals and the fax machine.

Streamlining administrative work, eliminating vested interests and pushing for a shift toward digitization are among the much-hyped pledges underpinning the identity of Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga’s fledgling administration.

A survey on the use of hanko seals at ministries and agencies has so far found that about 800 kinds of administrative procedures that are processed more than 10,000 times annually require hanko. Of those that required hanko, 35 were considered difficult to terminate, but Kono said he has asked government officials to reconsider the matter.

Hanko, also known as inkan, is a personal stamp of a person’s name and is commonly used as proof of authentication for an array of public documents and application forms.

In most cases, hanko must be manually stamped, forcing many to show up to their offices just for that purpose. The practice came under intense scrutiny earlier this year when it forced thousands of businesspeople to commute into their workplaces even in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, hampering efforts for telework.

Kono stressed that abolishing the use of hanko will also help promote the paperless efforts.

“If we don’t require hanko seals, we won’t need to print papers… our goal is not just to eliminate the use of hanko. I want you to think of it as a step for further reform,” he said.

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