Friday, February 24, 2017

Premium Friday

So, "Premium Friday" is upon us. We're supposed to leave work at three pm the last friday of the month, to (presumably) spend the time  — and our money — in shops, restaurants, izakayas and bars. The idea is the brainchild of the Japanese government and various consumer companies (The name is completely non-coincidentally similar to "Premium Malts", a popular beer).

Japanese workers spend far too much time working, and spend too little money when they don't. Premium Friday is supposed to curb working hours a little, and get people to spend a bit of money out on the town instead of saving it all for their kids' university tuition or retirement.

How is it going? The Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry that champions the idea doesn't even give their own employees clear permission to leave early, that's how well it's going. Some companies do give paid leave but many companies say — sensibly — that if somebody wants to leave early they can take flex-time and make it up later, or take a few hours out of their yearly vacation time.

It's too early to say, but the idea may look dead in the water. Why do they try this sort of thing? Because the long, inefficient, work hours and the unwillingness to spend have become major problems for Japanese society and economy.

The real solutions to these problems are either intractable or politically unworkable. It would mean wholesale reform of employment laws; redesign the pension and social security systems; and spread the economic and social burden on education and senior care just for a start.

That'd be a very tall order indeed. The different stakeholders all have different, incompatible ideas of how to change each of these institutions. My home country Sweden only managed to reform its pension system because of an acute financial crisis (as in "500% interest and currency in free-fall"). I doubt real reform will be possible in Japan either without a similar sense of impending disaster.

Meanwhile the clamour to "do something" is growing steadily louder. And the ministries — like every organization faced with a crisis — realize that doing nothing is worse than doing "something", whatever "something" may be. And so we get "Premium Friday". A campaign at least looks like doing something, which is better than doing nothing even if the end result is the same.

But if Premium Friday fails, the blame will at least mostly be on all those companies that wanted something done but then refused to give their own workers permission to participate. They're the ones that are forcing those too-long working hours on their employees in the first place after all.


  1. Work is something I still haven't had much luck really given the situation of my country, but I have observed its inefficiencies.

    I am looking forward to another period in Sweden, for a Master's and working afterwards as well. I believe I was spoiled enjoying the academic and work environment there. My flatmate was a PhD student from Italy and we often found out how what they call stressful, here in Southern Europe is relaxed. Well planned, 9-5's that, if it is like I saw in academia (productivity breaks galore), particularly effective.

    Spain inherited a postwar schedule, 9-19 with 2h for lunch and siesta. "Horario partido" back from when men had to work two jobs to sustain the family, thus the long layover between morning and afternoon. Much prefer a shorter lunch and ending earlier... If you have a commute like I did in uni here, arrive at home at 20-21 and have no effective free time left. Some companies do have an "intensive" friday, and the leave is also at 3PM. Well used here by people, though!

    Spain also has a "work more hours = more productivity" mindset that really doesn't bode well, add up a bad pay (median of 1000€/mo) and end up with a wrecked labour market. Aside of this, the pensions...

    I often think that despite being in the 21st century, there isn't much of a breakthrough in labour. Remote work, for example.. Flexible schedules for another.
    Of course will depend on the field, I am a business graduate and think most of the related fields could use more 21st century push.

  2. Hi Jordi,

    Yes, Sweden is pretty good about actually honouring work hours, paid leave and things like that; it's one of the things sorely lacking in Japan. Japan, especially, has that "work hours=value" mindset, creating some of the longest yearly working hours in the world. Of course, "working" can frequently involve reading a book, napping at your desk or busy-work. In practice, people can't be productive for more than 8-9 hours a day over longer periods.

    And with that said, there's good and bad employers both in Sweden and elsewhere. There's some real bad places to work in Sweden (especially in IT and finance), and some employers in Japan that realize that working people to death is stupid and counterproductive. My own current employer is happily one of the latter ones.

    I guess an extended lunch would work out really well if you live near your job. It's good for you not to stress through lunch, and it would be nice to have time to do errands (when you go home it's already too late). But with a long commute it would suck, I agree.


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