A turnaround in government policy to encourage company employees to hold side jobs or work multiple jobs — by revising the work regulation model that many businesses follow — responds to the need for greater flexibility in the labor market as manpower shortage tightens in the shrinking population. It may serve as a catalyst to alter the prevalent labor practices in this country based on seniority-based wage and promotion, which tend to tie most workers to the same employers until they hit retirement age.

Some questions remain, including which party will be responsible for managing employees’ total work volume and protecting their health. The government needs to sort out these questions to establish a clear environment for corporate employees holding multiple jobs. At the same time, employers should be reminded that decisions rest with individual companies regarding what kind of manpower they want and what conditions they offer workers, including the option of holding side jobs. Instead of waiting for cues from the government, businesses need to take their own initiatives to offer employees more flexible ways of work.

According to the government’s 2012 survey, the number of company employees wishing to hold side jobs had increased by 10 percent over the previous decade. But the number of those who actually engage in side jobs had declined by 10 percent. A Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry probe shows that more than 85 percent of companies in Japan have work regulations that prohibit employees from holding other jobs.

One of the factors behind this situation is said to have been the work regulation model that the labor ministry created as reference for small and medium-size companies, which held that people employed by a company cannot work for another firm without the employer’s permission, effectively banning corporate employees from holding other jobs. While the model was not binding, companies that followed the government’s guide in setting their own work regulations — as many of them apparently did — barred their workers from holding other jobs and made it a punishable offense if they did.

As part of its work-style reform efforts, the government in January revised the regulation model to say that company employees can engage in other jobs in their off-duty hours as long as they report it to their employers. The employers can prohibit the workers from doing so only for a limited set of reasons, such as preventing confidential information from being leaked to other firms.

The policy shift is in response to the rising number of people who want to hold side jobs and growing moves among major firms to allow their employees to do so. From workers’ viewpoint, holding side jobs carries several benefits in addition to the extra income, including the opportunity to try different kinds of work and acquire new skills and experience without having to quit their primary jobs, and being able to pursue self-fulfillment while earning a stable income through their main work. Such experiences may also help prepare people to change jobs or start their own businesses.

A growing number of companies also see advantages in their employees engaging in side jobs. Such workers can acquire new knowledge, information, skills and connections, which may in turn be utilized in their main jobs and expand their companies’ own business opportunities. It is also hoped that giving employees the option of holding side jobs will help prevent an exodus of capable and willing staff — or attract talented workers — and contribute to making the firms more competitive.

In promoting side jobs for company workers, a major issue will be managing the total work hours of employees from the viewpoint of protecting their health. The Labor Standards Law sets the upper limit on work hours to eight hours a day and 40 hours a week, but has no provisions about the hours spent on side jobs. It is not clear as to which party will be responsible for controlling the total hours of employees with more than one job to prevent overwork.

According to a guideline issued by the labor ministry in revising the work regulation model, employers are urged to have their workers report what they do in their side jobs so as to grasp their total work hours and health condition. It would be difficult for the employers, however, to control the hours the workers spend on their side jobs. The guideline also says the workers themselves need to manage the total work volume in their main and side jobs, the time spent on the tasks and their own health condition. A practical scheme should be explored to make sure that promoting the holding of side jobs by corporate employees will not result in overwork.

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