Japan Is Proposing a 4-Day Week

This is a new concept for the conscientious Japanese.


Health, Work
Japanese workers at a meeting look happy and more refreshed, an outcome of a 4 day work week.

(Tom Wang / Shutterstock.com)

Balance in life is important. A work-life balance may be more harmonized, offering reduced stress, better relationships, and improved overall health.

While many Western countries have found an equilibrium between work and leisure, industrious Japan has lagged behind. However, the Japanese government recently announced plans for a four-day work week, according to The Washington Post. This hard-working nation will soon have more family and leisure time that could lead to a more balanced lifestyle.

In June, 2021, when Japan announced its economic guidelines to push employers into giving a four-day workweek, workers were surprised. The government wants employees to have more family time and to have the opportunity to take enrichment courses.

As this extra day off gives people more leisure time to shop, the policy also addresses the shrinking economy. Moreover, the government hopes this extra downtime may encourage socializing, which would lead to marriages, and to more babies. This is positive news for a country with a shrinking population.

It was actually the coronavirus pandemic that sparked this unconventional decision. Since many Japanese started working from home and taking on flexible hours during 2020, Japanese businesses saw that productivity remained high.

This was previously proven in Japan in August, 2019, when Microsoft Japan temporarily offered workers three-day weekends. These shorter workweeks were more productive; they observed a 40 percent increase in productivity, as well as a reduction in the use of electricity and paper.

Japan is not the first country to adopt this idea. Spain recently launched a three-year program where employees can opt for a 32-hour week. Iceland is currently piloting a program, New Zealand and Finland are considering similar programs, with the UK also wanting to implement a shorter workweek in the next decade.

Despite the positive data from Microsoft and the high productivity working from home during coronavirus, employers and employees in Japan are still reluctant to give the four-day workweek a try, according to The Mainichi. Employees are afraid they will have a cut in pay, while employers still have rigid beliefs that their organizations will be less productive.

However, the benefits are more than a corporation’s top line. The shorter, four-day workweek will encourage those with family obligations not to quit their jobs, while reduced hours will enable others to take on second jobs, or enjoy promotions after having time to pursue higher education.

Part of the hesitation is the Japanese ethic of working hard, according to the BBC. This has been ingrained in the Japanese for generations, with conscientious workers taking only half of their allotted vacation time. However, the younger generation is changing, realizing that less work means less stress, leading to an improvement in mental and physical health.

“Social surveys indicate that younger workers are significantly less likely to support long workdays than older workers,” Yoshie Komuro told the BBC. Komuro is founder of Work Life Balance, a consultancy firm devoted to helping companies restore this lost art.

Realizing the importance of having the Japanese slow down a bit, the government is stepping in. And since the Japanese culture tends to be focused more on the group as opposed to the individual, it could very well work. Perhaps, in the not so distant future, more Japanese will be seen pushing baby strollers than crowding onto commuter trains!

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