Japan is a hard-working society, and so workers are expected to be in the office and ready to get going on the day’s tasks by their company’s starting time. Japanese companies are notoriously less punctual, though, when it comes to letting workers go home at the official quitting time.
For many jobs in Japan, it’s not a question of whether or not you’ll have to work overtime, but how much overtime you’ll have to do. In recent years, however, there’s been a growing concern that such long hours are having a negative affect on the population’s physical and mental health, leading to new laws and initiatives that aim to reduce workloads to more reasonable levels.
Unfortunately, changing decades of ingrained business culture isn’t so easy. During the 2020 fiscal year (which ran from roughly April 2020 to March 2021), the Japanese government’s Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare performed 24,042 on-site workplace inspections looking for improper overtime work taking place, and found it at 8,904, or 37 percent, of them.
Those violations were either employees working overtime without a proper labor agreement covering the practice or the amount of overtime exceeding the limits specified in the arrangement. Out of the 8,904 locations where violations were taking place, the Ministry confirmed cases of workers doing more than 80 hours of overtime in the span of a single month at 2,982 of them (12.4 percent of the total sites inspected). They also confirmed cases of workers doing more than 150 hours of overtime in a month at 419 locations (1.7 percent of the total).
Even with regular overtime work being a part of life for many people in Japan for decades, those are some startling numbers, and online reactions to the ministry’s report have included:
“People are getting worked to death.”
“As workers do more and more overtime their productivity starts to drop, but even now there are a lot of companies that just try to power through things.”
“A lot of people are working from home these days, and I think they end up spending the time they would have spent commuting doing more work instead.”
“Is Japan going to be OK?”
The numbers paint a dark picture, but there might be the faintest glimmer of a silver lining to them. First, the ministry’s inspections took place at workplaces from which they’d received employee reports of excessive overtime or otherwise already had reason to suspect wrongdoing was taking place, which suggests the 37-percent violation rate among the inspected workplaces is higher than the number would be for a survey of all companies in Japan.
Also, while a 37-percent violation rate among the inspected workplaces is definitely cause for concern, it’s actually the lowest percentage the ministry has found since it began publicly announcing the annual investigation’s results following the 2016 fiscal year. So at least the number is moving in the right direction, even if it looks like getting Japanese companies to stop making their employees work such long hours is a job that’s going to take a long time.
Sources: NHK News Web via Otakomu, Nihon Keizai Shimbun
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