Starting on February 24, this labor initiative hopes to decrease the hours Japanese workers spend at their desks, and thereby also help to prevent karoshi (death by overwork), and boost the economy. But will it work?
Towards the end of 2016, it was announced that the Ministry of Economy, Trade, and Industry, along with 15 business groups, will launch the Premium Friday campaign, giving workers the option of clocking off at 3pm on the last Friday of every month.
The news came at a time when the problem of karoshi was once again at the forefront of our minds – in December, the head of Dentsu advertising agency resigned over the suicide of a 24-year-old employee, Matsuri Takahashi, who had reportedly become depressed after clocking up over 100 hours of overtime work per month. Then there’s also the issue of productivity: Even though figures from the Japan Institute for Labor Policy in 2014 showed that the country works more overtime per week than any of the other G-7 nations, it’s also been reported that Japan has the lowest productivity of the group.
Throw Japan’s struggling economy in the mix and you can understand why the government seems happy to encourage people to leave work early once a month and spend the afternoon shopping, eating, and drinking – and essentially spending money. Toshihiro Nagahama, chief economist at Dai-ichi Life Research Institute in Tokyo, told The Japan Times: “There’s a clear relationship between leisure time, holidays and spending … If most workers, including those at small and medium-size firms participate, private consumption could rise by about ¥124 billion on each Premium Friday.”
The question is will the majority of companies sign up to participate in the campaign? And even if they do, is that enough to change the working culture to the point where people will voluntarily leave work early?