Japan Today
executive impact

You gotta have WAA

By Richard Smart for BCCJ ACUMEN

Unilever Japan introduced a new human resources system, on 1 July, which allows staff to choose both when and where they work. Through the system, the firm says it aims to “improve productivity as well as facilitate a better work–life balance”. Work from Anywhere and Anytime (WAA) allows staff to choose to work any hours between 6am and 9pm on weekdays to ply their trade, as long as they have received prior approval from a manager, and are not expected to do anything beyond the tasks set for them.

“We are creating a culture based on performance and results”, Unilever said.

Yuka Shimada, the firm’s director of HR and general affairs, said that beyond improvements in efficiency, the goal of the programme is to help Japan become a little more open and relaxed.

“This is a new way of working because it will create a new future for this company—and for Japanese society”, she said.

Sparking interest

Since the launch, Unilever has received a number of enquiries from firms that want to know how the system works and whether it can be used by other businesses. Around 140 external parties of interest have attended sessions on WAA hosted by Unilever, to find out about the system.

“I am amazed by the positive reaction from the market and am sure this is clear proof that everyone likes to be trusted and given flexibility”, Shimada said. “I believe other companies can learn that doing is easier than anticipating; trusting people brings more benefit than managing them”.

Japan relevance

Systems such as WAA should be welcomed by all in Japan. The salaried worker sleeping at his or her desk is no myth, and neither is doing overtime just to make sure he or she does not leave the office before the boss. This comes down, at least in part, to the nation’s strict HR systems.

Many offices have a punch-in system, whereby cards tell management who arrived and when, with punishments doled out for lateness. Long lines of workers waiting for proof of train delays are a regular feature of morning commutes, and do not boost morale.

A Randstad Workmonitor poll earlier this year found that only 43% of employees in Japan were either satisfied or very satisfied with their place of work, putting it rock bottom among the 34 nations surveyed.

Productivity statistics are as gloomy. In the service sector, which accounts for about three-quarters of the Japanese economy, productivity has declined since 2010, according to official statistics. It stood at 96.4 in May, in figures using average productivity in 2010 as a baseline of 100.

Changing mindsets

“Comments from employees have been all positive so far, though there are practical requests and issues that can be improved, such as technology”, Shimada said. Since the system began, around 70% of employees have used it. Around 55% of those have said that it has been a generally positive experience.

Technological issues aside, there is also the challenge of getting people to feel that going to the gym at midday or finishing up for the day at 3pm without having left the house will not be frowned upon.

“There may be some people who feel guilty about not being in the office but this is really a matter of mindset as well as the leadership of our managers”, Shimada said. “Our vision of implementing WAA is very clear and we will keep conveying a consistent message. Also, the board needs to lead by example and provide opportunities to change the mindset of managers by conducting training”.

Improvements may lead one day to a much stronger system for Unilever, which can help the firm boost productivity and raise job satisfaction. But Shimada has a bigger idea.

“My hidden agenda is to eliminate rush hour commutes in Japan as they are killing people’s energy and motivation every morning”, she said.

Custom Media publishes BCCJ ACUMEN for the British Chamber of Commerce in Japan.

© Japan Today

©2024 GPlusMedia Inc.

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Sounds like a brilliant forward thinking person and breaking the mold of most Japanese HR (Human Remains) departments.

I hear from many people who once worked in such a system they would never work in a Japanese style office again. Like many, including me, we started by ourselves and have been working WAA for years.

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(workers) not expected to do anything beyond the tasks set for them.

Japan Inc:

(often) no job description and (little) personal accountability.

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Great idea that all companies in Japan should follow. Granted it's my decision to live and work in Japan, the ridiculous inflexibility of Japanese working culture is by far my biggest complaint of life here.

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Interesting article. We have mostly WA in our offices - Work Anytime. Some people have to be present at certain times - for example someone has to be available to answer the phone during business hours. I leave it up to the front-staff to determine who will be there on a given day though, and they are good about it. most of them work 9-5 or 10-6 anyways, as that's their preferred time, so making sure someone is around to answer the phone is not so difficult for them.

The Anywhere part of the equation is a little different though. Staff need to be able to talk to each other, and I need to be able to talk to them, without having to track them down.

That said, we're still pretty flexible. Staff (and myself) do sometimes work from home, or a coffee shop. But I want that to be the exception, not the default.

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Sherman I concur. I think the WA system can do ALOT to curb many of the problems curbing J society due to insane overtime. I really hope this system catches on. My hat off and a very deep bow to Shimada-san. If the Japanese leadership can get behind her and endorse this system the same way Koizumi pushed for the cool biz years back it would do alot to improve the nation as a whole.

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“My hidden agenda is to eliminate rush hour commutes in Japan as they are killing people’s energy and motivation every morning”, she said.

This times a THOUSAND!!! When I used to commute daily(ages ago) I absolutely HATED it & I could arrive & leave whenever I wanted & still hated it! having to join the inhumane rush of humanity in/out of Tokyo was a torture. Thank god I tossed the desk in someone elses office & worked from home then bought a small office location so I can work from home or office at my choice............WAY BETTER!!

There is no way in hell I would ever go back to that soul sucking god awful daily commute crap! I hope Shimada-san's dream comes true, lord knows Japan would be much better for it!!!

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A concept that is not new to Unilever who provides most the of the supermarkets worldwide. Just look at the brand's they own. Not a short list.

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