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Economy

Curbing overwork first on corporate Japan's to-do list for employees

Goals at odds with government plans, workers' concerns

TOKYO -- Combating excessive hours is the top priority for Japanese business as efforts to overhaul working life advance, though employees are most concerned about compensation, according to a pair of Nikkei surveys.

Of 301 listed companies polled by Nikkei Inc. and Nikkei Research, 73% called addressing overwork a high priority in improving working life. Measures encouraging women's participation in the workforce were named by 67%, while efforts to help workers keep their jobs while raising children or caring for aging relatives came in third at 65%. Just 14% of respondents prioritize increasing pay.

On working arrangements, 84% of companies said they sought to pack more work into regular hours and cut overtime. And 36% discussed shortening the in-office workday, while 28% talked about giving workers more freedom in scheduling.

The government aims to cap total working hours. But companies say accommodating a variety of schedules, in addition to tightening regulation, is needed to boost productivity.

Companies overall feel little urgency in addressing such government priorities as raising pay and improving treatment of non-full-time workers, the survey shows. They are also leery of implementing guidelines promoting equal pay for full-timers and others doing the same work, laid out in draft form at the end of 2016. Corporate priorities are also somewhat at odds with those of workers in this regard.

Differing goals

Asked what policies they hoped to see the government pursue, 48% of companies requested a compensation scheme based on performance rather than time spent in the office. Changes to the tax code and social security were named by 47% of businesses, while 39% called for looser restrictions on firing workers. None of these has received much consideration in Tokyo, to the corporate sector's frustration.

Though implementing reforms will impose costs on companies in the short run, 70% said an overhaul would be good for business overall. The prevailing view is that making working life easier will help attract top talent and that enabling employees to work more efficiently will boost productivity.

Another survey was conducted over the internet and targeted employees at companies with 100 or more workers, garnering 10,508 responses. When full-timers were asked what they needed to do their best work, 38% said stable pay. Appropriate allocation of employees to various tasks came in second at 37%. Workers appear concerned about the possibility of pay cuts and are leery of changing jobs or otherwise leaving their current positions.

Asked what they hoped a government council in charge of implementing labor reforms would accomplish, 55% of companies mentioned changes to systems like social welfare to make it easier for such groups as young people and women to join the workforce. Pay raises were at the top of employees' minds, mentioned by 42% of respondents.

(Nikkei)

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