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As more companies shift to 4-day work week, new complexities arise

The coronavirus pandemic may have accelerated a trend already in progress for companies to reduce the number of working days from five to four per week.
Nikkan Gendai (Dec 3) reports that one of the latest major firms to announce a revamp its employees' work week is NEC Corporation. From 2022, the company will introduce what it calls "Smart Work V 2.0," a program that expands upon working conditions it had already adopted from 2018.
Company planners have worked to achieve the ideal office size, adopting a "free address" system by which desks and computer terminals are open to any user.
The new system is expected to see the number of staff present in the office at any given time to decrease from the current 70% of the total to 40%. While the amount of floor area at offices in the Tokyo-Yokohama area will decline overall by about 25%, areas devoted to common use -- called "co-creation space" -- are expected to increase eight-fold.
NEC staff will be able to select which days they work, including Saturdays, facilitating arranging of times when they can take off for three consecutive days. This should enable them more time to relax at home or to take short trips.
In general, companies in Japan that reduced their number of working days from five to four have adopted one of three patterns. In the first method, adopted by Fast Retailing (Uniqlo), the idea is to maintain the same number of working hours for the same remuneration. The second method, adopted by the Mizuho Bank, is to reduce the number of working hours and reduce the amount of remuneration. And the third, the enviable system adopted by Microsoft Japan, is to reduce the working hours while maintaining the same amount of remuneration.
As per the above, the Uniqlo model extended the working day by two hours, from 8 to 10 hours. According to Japan's Labor Standards Law, a working day is set at 8 hours. Does this mean that the additional two hours will entitle the worker to receive overtime compensation? Apparently not, if the terms of working hours are agreed upon in a prearranged contract. And needless to say, employees putting in 10-hour workdays are almost certainly less likely to perform much additional overtime.
In the case of the Mizuho model, the reduction in wages depends on whether a worker puts in a four-day week or a three-day week. If the former, wages are set at 80% of what they would have earned in a five-day week; if the latter, their wages are set at 60%.
Mizuho's system is flexible, however, in that it allows employees who are caring for elderly parents, a sick family member or small children to work a three-day week, but eventually return to a five-day week when their family situation allows.
Nikkan Gendai provides a sidebar showing the merits and demerits of the four-day work week. On the plus side for the worker are improvements in achieving a balance between work and life in general; allowing the worker more time to study and acquire additional skills; and reducing the chances for exposure to contagious diseases. On the company side, helping to curb worker resignations; making the company more appealing to applicants; and increased productivity.
On the negative side for workers are lower remuneration and the possibility of inequalities developing between five-day and four-day work week staff. Disadvantages on the corporate side are greater likelihood of lost business opportunities; possible need to hire a greater number of workers, and additional burdens on management to deal with overseeing a mixed system.
A survey taken in 2020 by the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare found that on average, 82.5% of all companies surveyed adhere to a 5-day work week; 9.2% to a 6-day week, and 8.3% to a 4-day week or shorter. Adoption of the 3-day week tends to be more common at medium-size firms than larger or smaller ones. At businesses having 1,000 employees or more, the 3-day week been adopted by 8.8%, as opposed to 10.6% at companies with 300 to 999 workers, and 9.2% at companies with 100 to 299 workers. The percentage of small businesses of between 30 to 99 workers that have adopted the 3-day work week was the lowest of the four categories, with only 7.8%.


© Japan Today
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