The Journal The Authority on Global Business in Japan

The traditional workplace is changing. A study conducted last year in the United States by technology solutions and services provider Softchoice revealed that 70 percent of employees would switch jobs if the move gave them more flexibility.

Work-style reform is also a hot topic here in Japan, fueled by a rapidly aging population. Childcare, family issues, and many other aspects of life are negatively affected by an inflexible workplace.

Japan is known for its postwar work ethic involving long hours. Many employees go beyond the traditional 9-to-5 and work well into the evening. This can take its toll. Twenty percent of work-related stress comes from attempting to balance one’s work and personal life. Cases of karoshi (death from overwork) are reported every year. Efforts have been made on the national level to ease the pressure that employees face, and the Council for the Realization of Work Style Reform was created to remedy this. The first meeting of the council was held at the Prime Minister’s office on September 27, 2016, and 10 meetings have taken place so far.

At the most recent meeting on March 17, an action plan was proposed that would cap overtime at 100 hours per month or 720 hours annually. Opponents on one side fear that this does not address work performed on holidays. Opponents on the other side claim that the limits will further hurt profits at a time when businesses are already struggling with labor shortages.

Let’s look at where we work and how we do it. Increasing productivity and implementation of work-style reforms is linked to higher profits. Among Fortune 500 companies, 62 percent have employees that do full-time and part-time remote work. With technology advancing and connectivity expanding, collaboration from outside the office is possible, and more and more companies will consider remote solutions. Others are taking a varied approach to scheduling. Family Mart and Uniqlo offer a four-day work week to help staff who must care for children or elderly family members.

To remain competitive, modern companies need to provide an environment in which people want to work. The American Chamber of Commerce in Japan (ACCJ) is doing its part to address the needs of employees and employers alike through the popular Women in Business (WIB) Summit. The summit was first held in Tokyo in 2013 and is now an annual event for all three chapters of the ACCJ. Chubu kicked off the series this year with a successful event in July that promoted awareness of workplace issues faced by both men and women, as well as empowering women in the workforce.

This year marks the third ACCJ–Kansai WIB Summit. Last year’s Kansai gathering focused on organizational culture change and why it is important to reduce challenges faced by women in the workforce. This year’s theme is centered on actual workplace reform and how it drives productivity and business performance.

Slated to appear are speakers from notable companies such as Microsoft, Google, Caterpillar, and Procter & Gamble. Panels will cover best practices employed by companies in Japan to increase productivity and engagement through new ways of working. Attendees will hear shared strategies and ideas that drive reform, and can participate in informative and interactive breakout sessions.

The energy at the summit can’t be beat. Join us for an inspiring day in Kansai on September 19, when we explore how working smarter—instead of longer—has a positive impact on employees, the organization, and society. It’s a meccha (really big) win-win.

Kina Jackson is a translator at KJ Consulting and co-founder of Gochiso. She is also a member of the ACCJ–Kansai Women in Business Committee.