Sleepless in Japan
Japan, the world’s third-largest economy, is having a bit of a sleep problem, and it’s doing more harm than just making people grumpy and unhealthy. Nearly half of full-time workers say they don’t get enough sleep, and the problem has only gotten worse in recent years. According to a government white paper on “karoshi” – death from overwork – the main reason for the lack of sleep is the massive amounts of overtime hours that the Japanese people work. That is largely the result of an unforgiving work culture that includes abundant overtime, said Junko Sakuyama, economist at Dai-Ichi Life Research Institute in Tokyo.
Not only is the lack of sleep making Japanese workers less productive, but this study found that Japan loses up to $138 billion a year from workers not getting enough sleep. It’s hard to see this kind of thing changing for Japan because it’s instilled in their culture. As we’ve seen with our own country, culture change is not something that changes easily. “There’s an atmosphere at work that you have to work long hours and you shouldn’t leave the office on time, resulting in a lack of sleep and making it difficult for workers to keep up productivity,” Sakuyama said.
Almost 40% of Japanese workers are getting less than 6 hours of sleep on average, up from 28% in 2007. However, a few companies are taking action, creating or bolstering “minimum rest” requirement, or the number of hours a worker must take off before returning to work. Sumitomo Mitsui Trust Bank extended its nine-hour minimum to all employees, including contract staff, in December. Since January, diaper maker Unicharm Corp. has required at least eight hours of time off, and prevents workers from staying later than 10 p.m.
The Japanese government appears to be getting the message. They have set aside about 400 million yen ($3.5 million) for the next fiscal year for an incentive program to encourage small and medium-sized companies to adopt minimum rest periods. A subsidy of up to 500,000 yen will be available per company to help pay the costs, including revising employment rules, training and updating software that manage work data, according to the labor ministry. “Long working hours are a crucial problem in Japan’s labor market,” Sakuyama said. “Japan must alleviate overwork to reduce the number of people who work themselves into early graves, as well as to raise productivity as the population shrinks.”