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Amid moves to explore new work styles during the COVID-19 pandemic, more companies are encouraging their employees to have side jobs or start a second business.

While some people are moonlighting to make greater use of their abilities and to spend more time on their pursuits outside of the work they do for their main employers, many are trying to make up for income lost due to the pandemic — leading to risks of overwork or health damage.

“I feel happy that I can make use of my experiences at the company to be of help to the people outside the company,” says Hiroaki Taniguchi, 42, an employee in the finance and accounting division at Nagoya-based food manufacturer Kagome Co.

Taniguchi, who works an average of eight hours a day at Kagome’s Tokyo office, also works as a teacher at a cram school in the city of Ishinomaki, Miyagi Prefecture.

Once a week on a weekday night, he holds an online class for high school students on business management, conducting case studies on issues such as product development using thinned wood.

Taniguchi, who is a qualified small and medium-sized enterprise consultant, also works part-time at two other firms including a construction consulting firm in Sendai.

Kagome launched a program in April 2019 to allow its workers to take side jobs. The program is restricted to employees regarded as highly productive, with an average monthly overtime of 15 hours or less and total working time of less than 1,900 hours in a year.

To prevent them from working excessively, no more than 45 hours a month can be spent on the side jobs and overtime in their main jobs combined.

The workers are free to choose any kind of side job, although they are banned from working for the company’s competitors and are obliged to maintain confidentiality.

“The program is aimed at encouraging employees to build up their career by themselves and make use of what they have learned outside the company in their work,” said a Kagome spokesperson.

About 30 workers in their 30s to 50s have used the program so far.

Taniguchi, one of the first to use the program, said he wants to make use of the project proposal and communication skills that he learned from his side jobs for investor relations activities he oversees at Kagome.

Having side jobs “helped me increase my future career options, such as taking up new challenges at the company or starting a business,” he said.

Increasing acceptance

IHI Corp., a Tokyo-based heavy industry manufacturer, started a program in January permitting its full-time workers to have side jobs and setting the minimum working time at the company to 20 hours a week.

The firm expects to see situations such as its engineers working as lecturers at universities, and hopes such workers will utilize the skills they learn outside the company for their work at IHI — helping to vitalize the organization.

The Japan Business Federation, better known as Keidanren, which had been cautious about encouraging side jobs until last year, has shifted its stance. In its management guidelines for this year’s shuntō spring wage talks, it wrote that “supporting workers to choose their own work styles leads to improvement of labor productivity.”

And as more companies are starting to consider allowing side jobs, interest is growing among workers as well.

According to a survey released by human resources services firm en Japan Inc. in October, 49% of respondents expressed an interest in taking up side jobs, up 8 percentage points from the previous year.

The firm said the rise is attributable to the fact that working style options have increased along with the spread of teleworking.

Still, the number of companies actually allowing employees to have side jobs remains small, with only 20% accepting such arrangements, according to a survey by Keidanren.

One of the reasons for the reluctance is the difficulty in managing employees’ work hours including hours spent on side jobs.

In September, the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry revised its guidelines to make it easier for companies to allow side jobs, such as letting companies manage employees’ total work hours based on reports by the workers themselves and exempting companies from responsibility for unreported work hours.

But such revisions do not offer a solution to prevent overwork.

“If health damage is reported by workers with side jobs, it is not clear how employers should handle that responsibly,” said an official at a major manufacturer based in Aichi Prefecture that is cautious about allowing side jobs. “Labor management issues remain a challenge.”

Low-income earners struggling

Concerns remain that allowing employees to take side jobs could lead to overwork, because the majority of those who take on such jobs are doing so to make ends meet.

According to a survey by the internal affairs ministry, 70% of those with side jobs earn ¥2.99 million or less a year from their main employment arrangement.

A health ministry survey shows that 56.6% of people moonlighting said they do so to increase their income. This is far from the intentions stated by the government and Keidanren, to have people work outside their companies to develop their careers or improve job satisfaction.

“In order to protect the health of workers who have no choice but to take side jobs, it is important to properly capture their working hours,” says Tadashi Matsumaru, a lawyer well-versed in labor issues.

If companies leave their employees to report on their own working hours in line with the health ministry’s guideline, “there is the risk of low-income workers secretly taking side jobs without reporting that to their employers, leading to health damage or death from overwork,” Matsumaru warns.

If an employee works longer than the legal work hours at a company where he or she has a side job, that person should be given extra pay, but Matsumaru says he has rarely heard of cases where such payments are made.

Moreover, if a person takes a side job as a freelancer, there is a risk of the work not being subject to working hours management.

The move to encourage side jobs could lead to longer working hours with the health ministry guidelines becoming pie in the sky, Matsumaru cautions.

This section features topics and issues from the Chubu region covered by the Chunichi Shimbun. The original article was published March 8.

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