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Overworked? Japanese Government Asks Workers To Chill

Update Date: Jan 24, 2017 08:50 AM EST

Overworked employees are more stressed and prone to health problems. Starting February, the Japanese government will ask workers to chill out by designating every last Friday of the month as "Premium Friday."

While the government initiative is not mandatory, employees are encouraged to sign out at 3 PM. The Japanese are known for being workaholics that they even have a word for it - karoshi, which means death by overwork.

Japan's biggest business lobby, Keidanren, is encouraging its members to take part in the government's initiative. Ironically, officials of Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI) have not yet decided if they will participate. But METI chief Hiroshige Seko has already given his secretaries orders not to schedule appointments after 3 PM.

Japan has more holidays compared to France and United States, however, these do not seem to take employees away from their work. A typical worker only uses half of his annual paid leaves, according to Japan Times.

Working long hours is considered a virtue in the country. Around one in eight workers spend 80 hours or more in their work.

There are numerous disadvantages to working too much, and in worst case scenarios, have caused the death of employees. For instance, an advertising agency employee committed suicide in 2015. She was found to have been working 100 extra hours a month. The incident has prompted the government to look into the country's working habits.

There are also cases wherein working more than the typical 40 hours in a week is mandated and not voluntary. Mitsubishi was referred to the labor ministry on suspicion that management forced a 31-year0old male employee to do excessive overtime.

Government spokesperson Yoshihide Suga believes that Japan needs to end their overworking habit so they can have time to live their lives,  like raising a child or taking care of elders in the family.

However, some are skeptical that the "Premium Friday" will give workers a time to chill out as they may find it necessary to do overtime on other days. Critics say that the government should instead focus on efficiency to avoid overworking.

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