In the US, long weekend policies are the stuff of envy — small perks that only a handful of companies offer.
In Japan, three-day weekend policies could be the first step toward a public-health campaign centered on fixing the country’s poor work-life balance.
On December 29, Japan’s federal government announced its Premium Friday plan, in which employees at participating companies can leave work at 3 p.m. on the last Friday of each month. The system is set to roll out on February 24, Bloomberg’s Keiko Ujikane reports. Thee’s no word yet on how many companies are participating.
Japan’s obsession with work eclipses even that of the US. According to a 2015 survey, more than 20% of Japanese citizens said they worked more than 49 hours each week, on average (Roughly 16% of Americans reported the same.) The same survey found 20% of Japanese people logged at least 80 hours of over time each month.
All that time spent working crowds out any time for vacation: The average Japanese worker uses just half of his allotted paid time off. It also leaves less time for nourishing the local economy. With less time off, people don’t go to the movies, dine out, or take trips as often.
Premium Friday is meant to help solve both problems. Officials from the Ministry of Economy, Trade, and Industry estimate the addition of 12 early dismissals each year could result in an extra $19.2 billion entering the Japanese economy, purely through added consumption.
Private consumption makes up about 60% of the economy in Japan, Bloomberg reports.
Premium Fridays might not sound like a big deal, but for a country that had to invent a brand-new word — karoshi, or “death by overwork” — to describe the scope of the problem, any step taken to improve worker morale is likely an important one.
In December of 2015, a 24-year-old woman who had reportedly been working 105 hours of overtime each month leapt from her company’s dormitory. Her suicide has since led to the resignation of the company’s president and CEO, Tadashi Iisi.
The Japanese government hopes as many businesses as possible sign up for the Premium Friday policy. It already has won the support of Keidanren, a major business lobby in Japan, which encouraged 1,300 other businesses in a recent memo to follow suit.
Japan’s affinity for long work hours has deep roots within the culture, so the policy will take time to sink in.
However, a recent survey shows people already have some idea how they will spend their new long weekends. So perhaps changing the culture is less about convincing people to do it than getting rid of peer pressure.