A quarterly survey conducted by the Working Reward Research Institute has found that the number of overtime hours worked by Japan’s office employees increased between July and September 2020 as companies struggle to recover from the effects of the coronavirus pandemic and the lockdown imposed in April.

By judicious number crunching, it has come up with a detailed survey of overtime habits in Japan, including breakdowns by sector and rankings for individual companies.

Overall, average overtime hours increased slightly between April and June 2020, from 23.53 hours per month to 24.11 hours per month, an increase of 0.57%. The sectors that saw the biggest increases were the real estate and construction sector, which saw an increase of 3.95%, and the medical sector, which saw an increase of 2.5%.

This graph shows, sector by sector, how the average number of overtime hours worked per month has fallen in the period 2014-20. | © Kyodo News PR Wire

The period between April and June saw increases in the average number of overtime hours worked across most sectors. Those that saw an increase of upwards of an hour per month were consulting, IT/ internet and the retail and restaurant sector.

The average number of overtime hours worked continued to decline in some sectors, however. Manufacturers, trading companies and companies in the finance sector all saw drops.

Overtime is a given for many Japanese workers, particularly in the country’s biggest companies. Despite well-publicised cases of death through overwork, the issue of overwork has been in Japan for generations.

Yet, as the below graph shows, the upward tick in overtime hours runs counter to the prevailing trend to put in fewer overtime hours in the office.

Under pressure from the government to address the issue of excessive overtime working, many of Japan’s largest companies have instituted workplace reforms in recent years. In April 2019, a law was passed that establishes an upper limit for overtime work, with penalties for companies that breach the limit.

Campaigners argue that companies have become adept at getting around legal limits to overtime work. One particularly eye-popping example is the case of an inspector from the Ministry of Trade and Industry whose job it was to visit companies to ensure that they were abiding by the new legislation. So worried was he that he too would drop dead of overwork that he entrusted his wife with a log of his working hours so she would be able to sue his employers for compensation if he were to die on the job.

OpenWork is a job market platform that is used by thousands of white-collar workers to find jobs. It currently has about 3.9 million members.

As part of its quest to improve employees’ satisfaction at work, it also gives current and former company employees an opportunity to express their opinions of the companies they work for. It has accumulated well over ten million reviews and evaluation scores, making it the largest such database of employee satisfaction in Japan.

OpenWork has been collecting and publishing data related to overtime hours in its quarterly bulletin since March 2014. It is determined to make the world of work more open and the job market more transparent. It hopes that its work will contribute to the development of a healthy working environment and help workers to find the employers that is right for them.

The Working Reward Research Institute is an affiliate of OpenWork. It conducts research into job satisfaction, using reviews and evaluation scores collected from more than ten million OpenWork users. It published the results of its survey in the July-September 2020 issue of its ‘Overtime Hours in Japan’ quarterly bulletin.


By - George Lloyd.