In an effort to address the notoriously poor work-life balance in Japan, the Japanese government began encouraging employees to leave earlier every last Friday of the month. Employees, however, ended up staying at their desks anyway.
Launched on February 24, the initiative called “Premium Friday” encouraged workers to vacate their offices by 3 p.m. so they can get some free time for themselves. While it all sounds good on paper, it turned out to be quite challenging in practice.
Sunny Side Up, a public relations company, tried to adopt the policy, but unfortunately, none of the employees wanted to go home early, BBC reports.
“It is not the Japanese way,” Ryuta Hattori, an executive of the firm, told BBC. “In the Japanese working culture, we work so hard and work so many hours and nobody takes off early. It is not done.”
The company ended up offering incentives just to get the employees off their desks.
“We had to give them bonuses,” Hattori explained.
An envelope containing 3,200 yen ($28) is handed out to each employee who goes home at 3 p.m. on Premium Friday. The incentive worked like magic. Employees used their free time to go to pubs or enjoy an afternoon playing sports.
Premium Friday was launched immediately after a series of deaths have been linked to the punishingly long hours many Japanese are expected to work. One case involved a 24-year-old female employee of advertising company Dentsu who was driven to commit suicide after doing over 100 hours of overtime in the previous months.
However, Premium Fridays have had very few adopters so far, with the amount of workload to still finish, many companies opt out in letting employees leave early. It has also been observed that even government offices are not keen on following through with the prime minister’s directives either.
Also, employees of other companies have not been completely sold on the idea as most of them are so used to working long hours due to Japan’s worker shortage.
“There’s a very practical reason why Japanese work so long… there’s not enough people to do all the work,” Sophia University professor of Japanese management Parissa Haghirian noted.
“In a company where there isn’t enough people, you can’t say some should go home early because you wouldn’t have enough people to complete tasks.”
It appears Japan needs to resolve its workforce problem first before they can send their employees home earlier.