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Opinion

Technology is the key to reforming the inefficient Japanese office

Labor shortages will finally force companies to automate white-collar jobs and dismantle hierarchies

| Japan
Japanese office workers -- tired after long hours but not very productive (NurPhoto/Getty Images)    © NurPhoto/Getty Images

In business as in life, it sometimes pays to be a laggard. Laggards can leapfrog leaders by tapping the latest technologies. This is exactly the position in which Japan finds itself, with regards to the productivity and the well-being of its workers, especially office staff. The starting point, helpfully, is really bad. Japan ranks 20th out of 35 OECD countries for per-hour labor productivity.

For the nonmanufacturing sector, which includes the bulk of office workers, the gap is particularly wide. A 2016 study by the Japan Productivity Center demonstrates a substantial discrepancy of per-hour labor productivity between U.S. and Japan especially in the nonmanufacturing sector. For example in financial services, Japan scores 48 for the period 2010-2012, compared with the U.S. on 100.

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