Will Toyota Implement a Four-Day Work Week?

Will Toyota Implement a Four-Day Work Week?

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Toyota 4 Day Work Week
Picture: years / PIXTA(ピクスタ)
As workers continue to struggle with work/life balance, Toyota may become the latest Japanese company to implement a flexible work schedule.

There’s a worldwide push for more flexible work systems, spurred by labor shortages and the pandemic. And if there’s one work culture that desperately needs a revamp, it’s Japan’s. With death by overwork stirring up anger and talk of work reforms paired with a weakening yen, some corporations are rethinking how they operate, including automaker giant Toyota.

On June 28th, Toyota announced it would look into implementing a four-day workweek system covering 38,000 technical employees and administrative staff. The company also plans to abolish the minimum two-hour per workday requirement in favor of “zero hour” workdays that would make it easier for employees to take time off.

Working smarter, not harder

Man relaxing with coffee outdoors
Picture: ノンタン / PIXTA(ピクスタ)

Interest in broader alternative work systems peaked during the pandemic when many companies switched to hybrid or remote work. The government’s 2021 annual economic policy included a proposal to increase four-day workweek and other flextime work options. Hitachi, Panasonic, and Fast Retail Co. piloted four-day workweek systems, while Mizuho Bank made flextime work permanently available.

Prefectural governments are also looking into flextime systems. Chiba Prefecture announced in February it would roll out a four-day workweek system in June. Employee salaries and the total number of working hours per four weeks will remain the same while ideally improving work-life balance and productivity. So far, 10 prefectures have tested out four-day workweeks, with Gunma Prefecture set to run a flextime trial within the fiscal year.

Motives behind implementing these systems vary. Some companies are hoping to retain employees who have responsibilities outside work, such as child-rearing or elderly caregiving, who would otherwise quit and find part-time work. Others ostensibly want to increase productivity and healthier work-life balances. Still, others want those employees to use their extra day off for self-serving reasons.

Panasonic suggested employees use the extra day for volunteer community work, additional skill learning, and side jobs. However, pressuring employees to reskill on their own time or seek other work rather than investing in in-house training comes across as a cost-cutting maneuver. It also echoes Prime Minister Kishida Fumio’s remarks last year about new parents reskilling on parental leave. It may be a day off on paper, but not so much in reality.

Keep the systems pro-employee

Flextime work systems aren’t without criticism. Many view fewer workdays as an excuse to pay less for labor. Remote work systems show promise long-term, but it’s still easy for employees, especially women, to slip through the cracks. As a 2022 Asahi Shinbun editorial points out, “If [corporations] implement four-day workweek systems with no change in existing conceptions of work and home, it could hinder women’s career advancements and solidify the pay gap between men and women.”

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In a 2023 My Navi survey polling 900 full-time employees, 66.8% weren’t willing to work only four days if it meant a decrease in salary, but 76.8% were all for the system if their salary remained the same. Despite the common perception of a drop in pay, 50.4% of employees who currently work four-day workweeks reported salary increases. When asked what they’d like to use their extra day off for, respondents chose hobbies and entertainment (44.9%), sleeping (33.8%), and spending time with their family or partner (32.9%). Only 18.4% were interested in picking up a side job.

Some companies want their employees to reskill or work on their off days, but clearly, employees would rather focus on hobbies and leisure. (Source: My Navi)

Slow but steady change

Change is slow and steady, but it will be challenging to combat the prevailing social stigmas in Japan’s work culture. Even if these flextime systems become the norm, some employees may shy from taking advantage of them for fear of retaliation. There’s a reason why terms like paternity harassment exist: some companies that offer parental leave often discourage men from actually taking it or punish those who do with a sudden transfer. Tackling the social stigma of taking well-earned time off needs to happen concurrently with any work reforms.

But for companies offering flextime systems and other unconventional benefits, the results have been positive. Profits soared when one CEO did away with outdated management practices and let his employees set their own schedules. One company incentivized employees by serving bottomless steak at its company cafeteria, which improved overall morale. Certainly, not every industry will be able to easily offer flextime systems, but those who can may reap benefits – for both their employees and their own bottom line.

What to read next

Sources

トヨタが「週休3日」可能に オフィス職場対象に検討. Yahoo! Japan News

千葉県が全職員対象に選択的週休3日制を導入 6月にも開始. Mainichi Shinbun

パナソニック、選択的週休3日制の導入を目指すと表明。給与はどうなる? 注目集まる. Huffington Post JP

企業の週休3日制 働き手本位の仕組みこそ. Asahi Shinbun

マイナビ転職、「週休3日制に関する意識調査(2023年)」を発表. My Navi

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Alyssa Pearl Fusek

Alyssa Pearl Fusek is a freelance writer currently haunting the Pacific Northwest. She holds a B.A. in Japanese Studies from Willamette University. When she's not writing for Unseen Japan, she's either reading about Japan, writing poetry and fiction, or drinking copious amounts of jasmine green tea. Find her on Bluesky at @apearlwrites.

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