Panasonic joins global trend toward four-day workweek

Ayai Tomisawa

Panasonic is introducing an optional four-day work week, one of a small but growing number of Japanese companies joining the global trend to encourage a good work-life balance.

Employees of the Osaka-based electronics conglomerate can take up side jobs and spend time on local volunteer work on their extra days off, CEO Yuki Kusumi said in an investor briefing last week.

"Our responsibility is to strike an ideal balance between the work style and life style for our diverse human capital," Kusumi said. Panasonic will also let employees work from home when their partners are transferred to other locations, he said.

Panasonic's move is in line with actions by technology companies worldwide that are trying to attract talent in a tight job market by offering a shorter week. Amazon piloted a four-day week for select employees in 2018, and consumer-goods giant Unilever in December 2020 started a yearlong trial of the shortened week for its New Zealand staff. Countries such as Ireland and Iceland are also trying it out.

In Japan, a group of lawmakers are discussing a proposal to grant employees a day off in addition to the two break days a week, to protect their well-being. But companies allowing four-day weeks are still a small minority: just over 8% of Japanese firms offered more than two guaranteed days off, according to a survey conducted in 2020 by the labor ministry.

That may be changing. Drug maker Shionogi & Co., which is developing an oral COVID-19 treatment, will provide the option for three days off per week from April, according to a Nikkei newspaper report. Yahoo Japan and Sompo Himawari Life Insurance also allow four-day weeks to staff caring for children or aging relatives, the Nikkei reported.