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Hi Blog. As a tangent to what Debito.org usually takes up, let’s consider something interesting that affects everyone in Japan: the pretty insane work ethic.
Caveat: Having a society that works hard pays out enormous benefits in terms of convenience. Who can grumble about being able to, say, get a good meal at any time from a convenience store, or have bureaucrats and postal workers working on weekends? Well, those people working those kinds of jobs. And while I see a similar erosion of working hours in the United States (according to the OECD, both Americans and Japanese work fewer hours per year in 2013 than they did in 2000, but Americans still work more hours than Japanese — not surprising seeing how inhumane the amount of time people in retail have to work, especially here in Hawaii), one big issue is the ability to take vacations. I see people working full-time around here able to take sick days and even vacations without much blowback from their colleagues. Not in Japan, according to the article below. That’s why the GOJ is considering making the vacations mandatory.
This is good news. However, a closer consideration of the stats given below show an disturbing tendency: Western Europeans take almost all of their mandatory paid holidays off (up to more than a month), while Japanese take less than half of the half of the paid holidays days off they possibly could (i.e., around nine days a year, according to the article below). And what are the labor unions pushing for? Eight days. How underwhelming. Earn your dues, unions!
I think anyone reading Debito.org (since so many of us have worked for Japanese companies) understands why Japanese workers take so few days off and sometimes work themselves to death — peer pressure. Hey Kinmu Taro, how dare you duck out of the office for a vacation and thereby increase the workload for everyone else? How dare you even try to leave “early” on a daily basis. After all, “early” is defined as ahead of anyone else — you even have to embarrassingly announce “Osaki ni shitsurei shimasu” (“Excuse my rudeness for leaving ahead of you.”) as you walk out the door as an apparent show of good manners (it’s more a mutual policing strategy). So you work late, even if that means you just sit at the office until 7 or 8 PM waiting for the boss, who often has no real interests outside of the company, to leave first (or ask you out for drinks, although that Bubble-Era experience is probably a dying phenomenon). So you find make-work or skiving strategies to look busy, and thus the company soaks up the overwhelming majority of your waking hours, for six or even seven days a week. To the point where the overwheming majority of Japanese workers are reportedly bored to bits on the job. I’m not saying anything here you probably don’t know already. I’m just explaining why I opened this blog entry with calling Japan’s work ethic “insane”.
So of course, what with all this embedded bullying, making the holidays mandatory is the only way to go. If it’s enforceable, that is: you’ll have to be brave enough to take it up with the Labor Standards Bureau if your employer won’t play ball (given how many people already work on national holidays anyway, employers don’t). So this development is good news for everyone, except that it’s not really asking for more than what the average person takes off anyway. Not until people demand Western-European standards of vacationing culture will things change. Clearly even Japan’s worker-representative labor unions are not about to do that (especially given the argument that the United States works even more hours).
I think Japanese corporate culture has immense trouble understanding that working longer does not equal working harder. Being able to take proper vacations is important in understanding how to work smarter — in order to increase worker productivity during the actual hours worked. By being able to duck out for a vacation recharge when necessary without the stress of guilt interfering, I think the Americans have a bit more leeway to do that.
Labor productivity studies is not exactly my field, and I’m sure plenty of Debito.org Readers have their own opinions and experiences about the work ethic in Japan. Opening this topic up for discussion. Dr. ARUDOU, Debito
Workaholic Japan considers making it compulsory to take vacation days
Japan Times/AFP-JIJI, FEB 4, 2015
Who wouldn’t want a holiday?
In Japan, plenty of workers fail to take their paid vacation allowance. The Abe administration is now considering making it compulsory for workers to take at least five days of paid holiday a year, in a bid to lessen the toll on mental and physical health.
Workers typically use less than half their annual leave, according to a survey by the labor ministry that found employees in 2013 took only nine of their 18.5 days average entitlement.
A separate poll showed that one in six workers took no paid holidays at all that year.
The administration wants to boost the amount of paid leave used to 70 percent by 2020 and is planning to submit legislation in the current Diet session mandating holidays.
In early discussions, employers’ groups have proposed limiting the number of compulsory paid holidays to three days, while unions have called for eight.
The culture of long working hours and unpaid overtime is regularly criticized as a leading cause of mental and physical illness among employees.
The term “karoshi,” which means “death by overwork,” entered the lexicon a few years ago amid a surge in the number of people dying because of stress-related problems or taking their own lives.
According to a poll by the Japanese unit of Expedia, a U.S.-based online travel agency, workers in France enjoyed 37 paid holiday days in 2010 and used 93 percent of them.
Spain had 32 paid vacation days and Denmark 29, with the average employee using up more than 90 percent.
As well as the health benefits, days off encourage workers to spend money on leisure activities, thereby boosting the economy.
Japan has a relatively high 15 statutory holidays annually. In recent years there has been a move to shift the days so that they fall adjacent to the weekend, making domestic holidays more of a possibility.
This year for the first time there will be a five-day weekend in May and in September, to which it is expected some employees will add a few days’ leave to make their vacations longer.