Imagine this: Thursday evening hits and you’re ready for the weekend. Sound good? Well, a decent chunk of Japan thinks so.
In 2019, the recruitment agency Mynavi conducted a survey asking businesspeople what they thought of a three-day weekend. Only 6% of respondents said they were against the idea, while nearly 50% replied that they were totally for it. A third also agreed with the idea that seeing as though the Japanese economy is in the shape it’s in, it’s futile to work so hard.
Since the COVID-19 pandemic began, some companies, including such corporate giants as Yahoo! Japan, Fast Retailing and Mizuho Financial Group, have gone ahead with introducing shorter work weeks for their employees.
Before uncorking the Champagne, however, you have to look at the fine print. According to a segment on streaming site Abema TV, many Japanese are wary of the idea, assuming that it’s too good to be true.
Sure enough, Mizuho Financial Group says that employees are free to take that extra day off, but should expect those hours to be deducted from their paychecks, regardless of their productivity levels during the other four days.
Yahoo! Japan says its four-day work week will be limited to employees who are pregnant, raising young children or caring for older relatives at home. Microsoft Japan, on the other hand, guarantees employees full salaries whatever their private situations — provided the employees can meet productivity goals during the remainder of the week.
On social media, people are generally in favor of an extra day off each week, including those working in the understaffed service industry.
“Some elderly homes are already on board with the four-day work week,” writes Twitter user @tokon_yuki_hara. “The homes that operate on this system have 1.5 times more applicants for caregivers than homes with the two-day weekend.”
Other Twitter users, like @kunijiiiiiisan, don’t think it’ll work: “Sure, it would be nice to have three days off but what if the client’s company isn’t doing the same? I’d prefer to be able to take a paid holiday when it’s convenient for me to take it.”
Back on Abema TV, comedian Patrick Harlan suggested that “possibly the Japanese government is trying to get people to hold down a second job during those three rest days. It may be a ploy to get people to work seven days a week.”
Business consultant and entrepreneur Yujun Wakashin pointed out the ridiculousness of current working norms.
“Japanese office workers have traditionally put in long hours because the bosses tended to drag out the work day by staying late in the office,” he said. “This means companies were paying employees for the time they spent in the workplace, not the results they put out. What we need to do now is to set up a system that will make people think, oh, that person can take three days off because they put in extra effort on the other four days. Otherwise, I don’t think this will work.”
According to Sankei Shimbun, the proposal to implement the three-day weekend system was submitted by Kuniko Inoguchi, a member of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party. The idea is to allow people to have more time to raise their children, care for older relatives, pursue further studies or start side businesses. Citing the rise of remote work due to the pandemic, Inoguchi explains, “We have seen that Japan has a latent ability to create flexible work environments and workstyles.”
If the four-day work week were to become a reality, which day of the week would you want to add to your weekend? Among those polled separately by the IT firm Biglobe and the lifestyle blog fire-jin.com, it’s a toss-up between Fridays and Mondays but, surprisingly, a lot of respondents are in favor of slashing Wednesdays from the work calendar. I guess to some, there’s nothing like a midweek siesta.
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