TOKYO -- Determined to combat a culture of overwork, Japanese businesses are pushing employees to use more vacation days via new requirements and monetary incentives.
More time off will make workers feel refreshed as well as help companies retain talent and boost productivity, the reasoning goes.
Pressure to put in long hours and take few days off persists in corporate Japan. There are still workplaces where people worry about what others will think if they go on vacation, according to Ryuichi Okumura of the Mitsubishi Research Institute.
Fujitsu wants to remove the pressure. Starting this fiscal year, the information technology giant is requiring those in managerial positions -- from section chiefs all the way up to the president and the chairman, totaling about 6,400 -- to take off five consecutive days a year. These breaks must come outside their summer holiday and such public holiday periods as the new year and spring's Golden Week.
"With officers taking the lead in taking time off, we want to create a culture that makes it easier for general staffers to go on vacation," President Tatsuya Tanaka said. The rest of Fujitsu's workforce -- roughly 26,600 -- is encouraged but not required to take similar breaks. Such initiatives are expected to be introduced at group companies as well.
Fujitsu took this step as an intervention. The company offers 20 paid days off a year, but vacation usage averaged only about 70% companywide in fiscal 2017, and the figure for just managers was even lower at about 60%.
The hope is that having bosses away for a while will also help improve how jobs are performed across the company, encouraging staffers to be more independent. Workers may also be motivated to finish assignments efficiently before going on vacation.
Data center operator Sakura Internet is dangling money in front of the reluctant. Employees who take two or more contiguous days off receive 5,000 yen ($44) a day for up to 10 days a year. In this way, they can add up to 50,000 yen to their annual income.
"It doesn't go well when companies force people to change the way they work," President Kunihiro Tanaka said. "We wanted to give them motivation that makes them want to take time off."
The incentive has done wonders since its 2009 launch, with four-fifths of employees taking advantage of the program at least once last fiscal year.
Having more workers take longer breaks gave the company a chance to reassess operations, Tanaka said, including identifying unnecessary tasks and ensuring that tasks do not become dependent on particular employees.
The tech sector is cited as being particularly prone to overwork, and Sakura Internet was no exception. Around a decade ago, the company suffered employee turnover of 20% a year. The rate has plunged to 1% since the data center operator introduced programs to create a more worker-friendly environment, encouraging staffers to take time off and allowing them to take side jobs.
Human resources group Recruit Holdings is also pushing vacations to improve productivity. Recruit Career employees with at least a year of service earn a 50,000 yen bonus once a year by taking at least four straight days off. Fellow group member Recruit Lifestyle began paying a 3,000 yen incentive last year to staffers who use paid vacation time on one of the five days specified by the company to create long weekends.
"We started awarding the incentive so that people will see the benefit of balancing work and play," a human resources officer said.
Japanese are bad at taking breaks. A survey by online travel agency Expedia covering 30 countries and regions found that Japanese workers used only half the paid days available to them in 2017, scraping the bottom of the ranking for a second year.