A Japanese Company Bans Late-Night Work. A Baby Boom Soon Follows

Working in workplace after 8 pm could be banned, and there could be no extra overtime-with uncommon exceptions

When Masahiro Okafuji grew to become chief government officer of Itochu Corp. in 2010, he made enhancing productiveness a prime precedence so the corporate may compete towards greater rivals in Japan. His method was counterintuitive. Working within the workplace after 8 p.m. could be banned, and there could be no extra overtime-with uncommon exceptions. Safety guards and human assets employees would scout Itochu’s workplace constructing in Tokyo, telling individuals to go dwelling. These clinging to their desk had been informed to return in early the following day to get their work done-and receives a commission additional.

The powerful love labored. A decade later, the company-whose companies vary from the FamilyMart comfort retailer chain to metals trading-reported a greater than fivefold leap in revenue per worker from 2010 to 2021 as surging commodities costs and a weak yen buoyed its backside line. What additionally modified, to the shock of Itochu’s administration, is that extra feminine workers took maternity go away, had youngsters and got here again to work.

“We got down to enhance productiveness however had no thought it might have an effect on the birthrate,” says Fumihiko Kobayashi, Itochu’s government vp.

The buying and selling home has emerged as an unlikely trailblazer in bucking a falling birthrate pattern that Japan’s authorities and others world wide have tried exhausting to reverse, with out a lot success. Itochu noticed the fertility charge amongst full-time workers double within the years since Okafuji grew to become CEO, reaching virtually two kids per feminine worker within the fiscal 12 months ended March 31, 2022-far exceeding Japan’s present nationwide charge of about 1.3.

The birthrate spike caught the eye of Itochu board member Atsuko Muraki, who beforehand served as director of equal employment and youngster welfare at Japan’s Ministry of Well being, Labour and Welfare. She inspired the corporate to make the trend-defying numbers public final 12 months, searching for to ship the social message that, for ladies, elevating youngsters and having a profession do not have to return at one another’s expense. Combined reactions adopted. Some criticized Itochu for meddling in workers’ lives and being insensitive to these with reproductive challenges.

Japan has lengthy been identified for a piece tradition by which grueling hours on the office-often adopted by evenings spent consuming and ingesting with work colleagues-make having a household difficult, particularly for feminine staff. In consequence, many ladies exit the workforce to care for teenagers. Itochu’s evening work ban eased a few of that strain. And after the Covid-19 pandemic, workers had been granted the choice to work at home two days per week. The corporate went additional final 12 months, when it lower core workplace hours from eight to 6, so individuals can punch out as early as 3 p.m.

So whereas getting pregnant would possibly successfully mark the tip of a lady’s profession at numerous different Japanese companies, many feminine workers at Itochu returned, due to the curtailed working hours and a day-care heart the corporate arrange close to its workplace, making it simpler to juggle jobs and caring for teenagers.

Itochu’s expertise may supply some notably essential classes for Japan and its neighbors in East Asia battling falling fertility charges. Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida is searching for to halt an accelerating beginning decline that he calls a “nationwide disaster,” which threatens to create an 11 million employee shortfall by 2040 and result in a collapse within the nation’s pension and health-care system. A brand new company for youngsters and households was created in April to deal with these challenges, whereas in June Kishida pledged $25 billion in new insurance policies to encourage individuals to have extra infants.

Outdoors Japan, falling fertility charges threat taking the steam out of Asia’s financial powerhouses. South Korea has had the world’s lowest birthrate for years, dipping to 0.78 in 2022. The proportion of girls age 25 to 39 dropping out of the workforce there’s additionally the best amongst developed nations, believed to stem partially from an absence of kid care-another driver of low fertility.


Rising monetary pressure and lack of kid help have additionally led China’s inhabitants to shrink for the primary time in six many years, handing the crown of the world’s most populous nation to India.

It is no secret {that a} punishing, unsupportive company tradition throughout these Asian economies has taken a toll on girls’s willingness to have kids. Many working in China’s tech trade lament an time beyond regulation tradition often called “996”-working from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. for six days per week. Jack Ma, founding father of Alibaba Group Holding Ltd., drew widespread criticism in 2019 for calling “996” a blessing.

One Chinese language firm lately sought to ease that poisonous work tradition. In June on-line journey company Journey.com Group Ltd. stated it might supply annual 10,000-yuan ($1,379) child-care subsidies to workers for each new child youngster by means of the age of 5, along with choices to work at home and assisted-reproduction advantages.

Whereas buying and selling homes equivalent to Itochu have underpinned Japan’s postwar financial miracle, additionally they embody the nation’s company tradition characterised by male dominance, lengthy working hours and strain to affix ingesting events with bosses and shoppers after work. Few anticipated main firms like Itochu, Mitsui, Mitsubishi or Sumitomo to interrupt away from the decades-old ethos of utmost dedication to work and grow to be a pioneer within the push for higher work-life stability.

So when Anna Furuya returned from maternity go away in 2013 to her job on the time in Itochu’s textile division, within the early days of the corporate’s working-hour reforms, she felt like an outlier each time she left for dwelling sooner than her colleagues. “The change hadn’t sunk in but, so I used to be a minority utilizing it and felt responsible to go away early,” she says.

Now the 38-year-old, who as of late works in Itochu’s company division, says she’s “extremely glad” along with her life as a working mom. Furuya generally begins her day within the workplace at about 6:30 a.m. and leaves round 4 p.m. She will then watch her 9-year-old son do his homework whereas cooking dinner. “For individuals like me who’re elevating youngsters, it is actually essential to shift your life to earlier within the morning to be environment friendly,” she says.

Different Japanese enterprises have taken be aware. Mitsui Sumitomo Insurance coverage Co. stated earlier this 12 months that beginning this month it might give as a lot as 100,000 yen ($700) to workers who assume among the workload from colleagues on child-care go away. And Recruit Holdings Co., the Japanese mother or father of job search and assessment websites Certainly.com and Glassdoor, permits workers to work at home more often than not and gives additional days off on prime of statutory holidays.

Massive firms are typically extra energetic in introducing work flexibility than smaller ones. Nearly a 3rd of enormous firms in Japan with greater than 1,000 workers supply versatile work hours, in contrast with fewer than 10% of these with not more than 100 individuals, authorities information present.

But some query whether or not Itochu’s success may be replicated extra broadly. Youngster-rearing requires each time and cash. Buying and selling homes supply a few of Japan’s most well-paid jobs. The common annual revenue for somebody working at Itochu in 2023, 17.3 million yen, is about 4 occasions the nationwide common.

“The most important motive for the birthrate drop is that folks with low financial standing do not have monetary means to have a household or kids,” says Yasuko Hassall Kobayashi, an affiliate professor of Asian research at Ritsumeikan College. “Itochu represents rich individuals in Japan. Staff and their companions are more than likely to be excessive earners who can afford it.”

Nonetheless, the so-called shosha man stereotype of male company elites not suits Itochu’s workforce. The corporate says the pliability and help it gives have attracted extra girls to affix and fill mission-critical positions. Male workers additionally look like extra concerned with their families-half of them have taken paternity go away, in contrast with 14% of male staff nationwide.

“I do not really feel responsible about leaving early anymore,” says Furuya, the working mother at Itochu, “as a result of it applies to everybody, not simply moms.”

(Aside from the headline, this story has not been edited by NDTV employees and is revealed from a syndicated feed.)


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