Ahh, excessive overtime, and especially the dreaded euphemistic-named “service overtime”, or unpaid overtime in proper English, is perhaps the biggest culture shock to foreign office workers when they come to Japan. We all have our pet theories about why, but this recent survey conducted by goo Research and reported on by CNET Japan into overtime and work efficiency perhaps answers some questions.
Between the 22nd and 24th of February 2008 1,080 members of the goo Research monitor panel employed as businesspeople completed a private internet-based questionnaire. 68.2% were male, 24.5% in their twenties, 24.9% in their thirties, 25.3% in their forties, and 25,3% aged fifty or older.
My employer is one of the rare companies that has embraced Work-Life Balance as a slogan at least. However, some recent news that I don’t think I should mention has revealed that they are about to take a very bold, perhaps even unique in Japanese large companies, step to address one issue regarding this balance. We shall see how it all pans out…
The title of the survey implies that there was some questions regarding how people view the effectiveness of overtime; outside crunch times there is a general perception amongst foreigners that the Japanese spin out an 8 hour working day over 12 or more hours, so I’d have loved to have seen the outcome of questions regarding that issue. Sadly, the original Japanese article did not report this aspect.
First, a few questions that were not reported in full. When questioned regarding the work-life balance, most almost everyone thought it needed to be considered, with the more popular opinions of why it is important to consider being that work efficiency would be raised and that industry’s thinking that overtime is a fact of life can be reformed. However, over 90% thought overtime is necessary for business survival. About two in five of the sample did overtime four or five times a week, which does seem a bit low to me.
34.8% of the sample had a “No overtime day” system in place, and 40.2% of that group had it strictly enforced. However, around four in five found they couldn’t always finish their day’s work on these no overtime days.
Q1: From a personal perspective, why do you think overtime isn’t reduced? (Sample size=766, multiple answer)
If you can’t finish your work in regular time, it is best to do overtime 63.7% You feel guilty if just you leave early while others stay behind 46.6% In business overtime is the way things are done 41.9% Because overtime pay supports part of your living expenses, it’s tough if you don’t do overtime 35.9% No overtime is an impossible goal 34.1% Overtime is good for the company 11.6% Other 5.4%
Q2: From the employer’s perspective, why do you think overtime isn’t reduced? (Sample size=1,025, multiple answer)
Employees doing overtime is the way things are done 47.6% Because the business environment is tough, we wouldn’t be competitive if we only worked regular hours 45.1% We won’t reduce overtime 42.2% The company needs overtime to be done, and the employees understand this 35.0% In Japan overtime pay supports part of one’s living expenses, so employees also want to do overtime 18.9% Other 7.3%
When asked what they should do themselves in order to reduce overtime, 49.0% said regulating concentration time and break time, and 43.6% said producing daily schedules of work.
Q3: To improve work efficiency, what sort of tools are in use, what sort of things are done? (Sample size=1,080, multiple answer)
Nothing in particular 65.8% Use groupware for schedule, document management 20.8% Put information to work using company intranet, blogs, SNS, etc 9.4% Mail sent to work address can be viewed from home PC, mobile phone, etc 8.0% Intranet schedule can be viewed from home PC, mobile phone, etc 5.6% CRM (Customer Relationship Management) or other sales tool used to manage data 3.3% Other 1.5%
Q4: Do you think work-life balance will take root? (Sample size=1,080)
Will take root 21.2% Won’t take root 45.3% Don’t know 33.5%