Japan has some major workforce issues. One is the tendency to work very long days, even to the point of karoshi… death by overwork. The other is the birth rate, which at 1.34 per couple isn't high enough to create a sustainable future workforce… which is necessary to also support the previous generations of retirees. And yet another is the economic slowdown, which means that fewer work hours are necessary, sometimes leading to layoffs.
Even before one reaches the front door of Canon's headquarters in Tokyo, one can sense the virtual stampede of employees pouring out of the building exactly at 5:30 p.m. In a country where 12-hour workdays are common, the electronics giant has taken to letting its employees leave early twice a week for a rather unusual reason: to encourage them to have more babies.
Yes, really. That "stampede" may not be all that "virtual." And you could argue that the long workdays really do have a direct impact on the birthrate, especially when the long day can end with a trip to the kyabakura, thereby releasing workday tension in a different way.
Keidanren, Japan's largest business group, with 1,300 major international corporations as members, has issued a plea to its members to let workers go home early to spend time with their families and help Japan with its pressing social problem
The 5:30 p.m. lights-out program is one simple step toward helping address the population problem. It also has an added benefit: Amid the global economic downturn the company can slash overtime across the board twice a week.
Of course being able to leave at 5:30pm doesn't sound all that great to most of the rest of the world, but perhaps there's something to be learned from the incentive side of things…