Force employees to take vacation

Japanese government has a new idea that can force overworked Japanese employees to take a little break.

Work/life balance is extremely important but mandatory vacation? I am really not sure if it is a good idea. It sounds ridiculous.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is known for his radical approach to solve Japan’s modern social issues and this is definitely one of those extreme approaches.

So how many days Japanese workers have to take under Abe’s new policy? It isn’t that bad. They will need to take at least five paid days off every year.

Japanese companies offer “generous” benefits and they typically get 10 days off BUT here is the catch.

Japanese employees cannot take vacation! They are too busy, overworked and feel the pressure from their superiors and colleagues and many workers end up not using their vacation hours.

Japan has one of the highest suicide rates among developed countries and Japanese employees are known to be “workaholic” and we often see salarymen sleeping on trains. It’s quite sad but it’s the reality of modern Japan.

And the corporate culture is literally killing Japanese employees who are not contemplating suicides but there is a word for this social problem-Karoshi (death from overwork). My father is a salary man who works for a large corporation and a couple of his colleagues died from Karoshi.

So why is Mr. Abe’s administration pursuing this new policy? Japan is suffering from drastic population decline and most married women in Japan do not or cannot work full-time while taking care of children because of excessive work hours Japanese salarymen pull off everyday. As a result, women either retire after getting married or choose to dedicate themselves to advance their careers instead of marriage. Women shouldn’t have to choose one or the other, and Japanese society is finally suffering from this social phenomenon.

Mr. Abe’s administration is trying hard to somehow revive Japanese economy that has been stagnant for over two decades now. By forcing employees to take more paid time off, they hope that women will be able to return to work that allows them to maintain work/life balance and companies will have to allow flexibility.

Mr. Abe thinks that having talented women return to work is the key factor to recover Japan’s declining population and declining economy.

I think mandating all employees to take at least five paid days off will be a good starting point. I wouldn’t have dared to advance my career in Japanese corporate world while raising my own family. That is just not practical especially because I know my dad’s insane work schedule as a salaryman. Incidentally, most of his colleagues at his level are men. I hope this initiative can motivate women not to quit their job as soon as they get married and have a child and hopefully Japanese corporations will be forced to accommodate flexibility and more time off for both women and men because men could support “career” oriented wives.

Even then, this is a bold risky initiative and the rout cause of intense corporate culture comes from its history and companies will probably still try to make employees work “illegally while signing on paid-time hours.

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