Summer Means Early to Work in Japan’s Campaign to Cut Overtime

Japan’s civil servants are being encouraged to make it into the office by 7:30 a.m., clock out as early as 4:15 p.m. and forget about overtime in the Abe government’s latest effort to create a better work-life balance.

As many as 90 percent of officials based in Tokyo’s Kasumigaseki district, the heart of Japan’s bureaucracy, are likely to embrace early hours in a trial campaign during July and August, said Yumiko Jouzuka, who is helping with preparations at the Cabinet Secretariat.

To make sure they leave at a reasonable hour, at least on Wednesdays, many offices will be turning the lights off at 8 p.m. Across the country, about 50 percent of national civil servants may participate, she said.

Japanese full-time workers spent 173 hours on average doing overtime in 2014, 18 hours more than 10 years ago and the longest in comparable data going back to 1993, according to the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare. More than 2,000 suicides a year are linked to work and overwork in Japan, where most full-time employees take less than half their leave entitlements.

“This will help boost productivity and improve people’s work-life balance,” said Susumu Takahashi, a private-sector member of the government’s council on economic and fiscal policy. “I hope the campaign also brings about a reduction of overtime, helping women and men to work under equal conditions.”

Reducing unnecessary overtime in the civil service may also encourage the same in private companies, said Jouzuka. The Cabinet Office experimented with earlier starting hours in May and 87 percent of officials who participated found it beneficial, she said.

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