The government’s plan to make sure full-time regular employees take their paid vacation has apparently failed. A survey by the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry, released last month, found that Japan’s full-time regular employees only took an average 47.1 percent of their paid vacation in 2012, down 2.2 percentage points from 2011. The government’s goal of increasing the percentage of paid vacations taken to 70 percent by 2020 seems further away than ever.

The survey noted that although regular full-time employees are entitled to an average of 18.3 days of paid vacation, they actually took only 8.6 days. Men took just 44.2 percent of their paid vacation, while women took 53.4 percent. Workers at electric and gas utilities took more of their allotted holidays than workers in any other industry — 71.1 percent. However, employees in the hotel and restaurant industry took the fewest, a mere 29.8 percent. And many employers simply delete employees’ unused paid vacation days that exceed a company-set ceiling.

Employers and employees in Japan should recognize that paid vacation days are a legal right. The economic downturn is no excuse for putting off taking time away from work. Businesses need to be better organized and accepting of employees taking due time off. Of course, scheduling vacations is a logistic nightmare, especially for small companies and for key employees. However, vacations are a basic element of good business ethics.

Though workers may hesitate to ask for vacations, they need to get over the guilt of leaving coworkers and take time to reduce stress and unwind. A break from work should not be seen as a lack of commitment, but rather as a reflection of the need for humans to do more than just constantly work. All employees, and especially those taking on the most demanding responsibilities, need time away to relax, recharge and re-humanize.

Study after study has concluded that time off is good for health. Insufficient time off has a negative effect on job performance. Overworked employees are less efficient and motivated.

Taking vacation days gives people time to get in touch with themselves, friends and family, and other interests. Businesses should consider work performance more important than work attendance.

A business that is unable to schedule vacations for its workers has serious management problems. Simply put, a nation of rested, relaxed employees would be not only humane but also more productive. Giving time off to workers shows not only that they are being fairly compensated but also that the country has established a harmonious work-life balance.

Encouraging and supporting employees to take their legally mandated vacations is a difficult, but essential undertaking that will improve the lives of workers and the productivity of companies.

In a time of both misinformation and too much information, quality journalism is more crucial than ever.
By subscribing, you can help us get the story right.