Corporate Japan loosens collar for 'Premium Friday'
Drive to goose spending may also aid efforts on work-life balance
TOKYO -- Large Japanese companies are throwing their weight behind a government campaign that aims to spur consumption by having workers leave early on the last Friday of the month.
The first so-called Premium Friday, Feb. 24, is fast approaching. Campaign supporters include the Japan Department Stores Association, the Japan Chain Stores Association and the Keidanren business lobby.
If you have it, use it
Some businesses have begun encouraging employees to leave at 3 p.m. on the final Friday of the month. A common approach combines urging them to take frequently underutilized paid time off and minimizing meetings.
Confectionery maker Morinaga will allow all 1,349 staffers, including part-timers, to take a paid half or full day off on Premium Fridays. It will also urge them to reduce work-related events and meetings so that they can at least clock out at the regular time if they cannot go at 3.
Construction contractor Shimizu will introduce hourly paid time off this coming Friday, adding to the existing full- and half-day options.
Such supportive employers apparently view the campaign as a vehicle for advancing workplace reform -- an area where progress burnishes a company's image and so aids in attracting and retaining talent. Some large companies thus seek to use Premium Fridays to motivate staffers to work more efficiently and leave early.
Mitsubishi Motors will introduce flextime at such nonmanufacturing operations as development and sales to make it easier for workers to clock out at 3 p.m.
Raring to go ...
Retailers and service providers expect a boost. Restaurants, department stores, hotels and travel agencies have been rolling out an array of deals, including discount packages and services targeted at women. More than 2,400 businesses had applied by Friday for the use of the official campaign logo.
Premium Fridays will buoy travel spending by at least 200 billion yen ($1.77 billion) a year, the Mizuho Research Institute predicts.
Yet many employers remain hard-pressed to make sudden changes. In a survey of 1,603 people by Culture Convenience Club, just 3% of respondents said their employers were incorporating the campaign into the workplace, while 68% said they were not.
And some companies worry about hampering interactions with business partners or group members abroad. While trading house Sumitomo Corp. says it will support the Premium Friday campaign, an industry peer expresses concern about disrupting communication with overseas contacts.
The campaign's effects on improving work-life balance will be an area of focus.
Usen will roll out the 3 p.m. campaign to about 70% of its staffers this month. The cable music broadcaster will treat the time off as special leave, paying employees as if they had worked until 6. It will solicit feedback about the impact on their work before deciding whether to continue.
Daiwa House Industry will let staffers take paid time off on the last Friday of even-numbered months.
... or not
Small and midsize businesses, with their lower head counts, will have a harder time getting with the program. The Saitama Prefectural Federation of Societies of Commerce and Industry expects that it will be some time before the practice takes root.
Also complicating matters is that Feb. 24 falls right before a day when many companies settle accounts. In Japan, accounts are often settled on dates ending in 0 or 5.
Local governments, as large employers, do not seem to have kept up with the Premium Friday campaign, either. "We are not even familiar with the term itself," Kanagawa Prefecture Gov. Yuji Kuroiwa says.
Tokyo Gov. Yuriko Koike expresses support for the campaign, saying it will align with workplace reform efforts. But simply reducing workloads during a specific period will not lead to qualitative changes in how people work, she warns.