Japan Asks Worn-Out Workers to Take Afternoon to Chill

'Premium Friday' begins in February
By Elizabeth Armstrong Moore,  Newser Staff
Posted Jan 21, 2017 11:59 AM CST
Japan Asks Worn-Out Workers to Take Afternoon to Chill
Investigators enter the headquarters of Japan's top advertising agency, Dentsu, in Tokyo after an employee's suicide.   (Nozomu Endo/Kyodo News via AP)

Workers in Japan put in notoriously long hours, and the country appears to be paying a price: stressed out workers and resulting health problems, including suicide. As the Japan Times notes, there's even a word for it: "karoshi," or "death by overwork." Now Japan is designating the last Friday of every month as "Premium Friday," with employees encouraged to sign out at 3pm—and maybe do a little shopping to jump-start their weekend and possibly a lagging economy, reports the London Times. The move isn't mandatory for companies, but the nation's biggest business lobby is on board and encouraging its members to take part when it launches on Feb. 24.

It doesn't help that most workers in Japan tend to use only half their allotted paid time off, and that an estimated one in eight work 50 hours or more—the highest percentage among G-7 nations. So it remains unclear whether Premium Friday will be a sufficient break for the overworked, or even attainable for those who must squeeze in their work at other times. Fortune is skeptical, calling it an "essentially meaningless" scheme. It quotes a critic who says the bigger issue to focus on is efficiency to cut down on those long work weeks, which are "still considered a virtue." Another problem is that Japan has lots of small, family-run businesses where shortened hours could be a problem, notes the BBC. (A Japanese CEO resigned after a young woman's suicide.)

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