In a bid to boost consumer spending and to tackle Japan’s infamous culture of long working hours and overwork, the Japanese government introduced optional schemes to allow employees to clock off early. However, it turned out to be more difficult than it sounds.
Sunny Side Up, a Tokyo-based public relations firm, backed the government’s idea known as “Premium Friday” and thought it was a good initiative — but things didn’t turned out to be the way they thought they would. Despite the firm’s announcement that employees could leave work early on the last Friday of every month, nobody wanted to go.
However, to make sure employees left work early, the firm came up with another idea. They had to offer bonuses in order to push workers out of the door.
“It is not the Japanese way. In the Japanese working culture, we work so hard and work so many hours and nobody takes off early. It is not done,” said Ryuta Hattori, head of the company’s global communications department.
As part of the incentive, any employee who left work at 3 p.m. on the last Friday of every month was rewarded with an envelope stuffed with 3,200 yen ($28).
However, it is very unlikely that the government-planned scheme will succeed to change the social pressure in Japanese workplaces as people stay at work late into the night simply because their colleague are still there.
According to Parissa Haghirian, professor of Japanese management at Sophia University in Tokyo, “That’s a typical outlook in Japan, a country where workers rack up long days with or without being paid overtime.”
“There’s a very practical reason why Japanese work so long… there’s not enough people to do all the work. In a company where there isn’t (sic) enough people, you can’t say some should go home early because you wouldn’t have enough people to complete tasks,” she added.
Deaths from overwork are so common in Japan that it has its own name: “karoshi.” The country is known for its brutal work hours. The suicide of 24-year-old Matsuri Takahashi on Christmas 2015 brought the notorious Japanese problem with overwork into the spotlight. Investigators found that Takahashi was forced to work about 105 hours of overtime a month and the punishing workload resulted in her jumping to her death.