Yesterday I noticed in an article on the Deutsche Welle Web site on the 4-day week, that “Kuniko Inoguchi, a member of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party,” put forward a proposal “to permit workers to opt for a four-day working week instead of the traditional five-day, Monday-to-Friday pattern.”

Scenes from Tokyo

I’ve recently been in touch with politicians or policy folks in several countries who are interested in a 4-day week, but I hadn’t heard of Inoguchi. She’s a LDP politician who appears to have worked on social and policy issues for a number of years– efforts to reverse Japan’s population, to improve career prospects for women, etc.. (She also has a Ph.D. in economics from Yale.)

Sora News reports (via Google Translate, now) that Inoguchi’s proposal

would establish a framework wherein workers in Japan could opt for a four-day workweek while still being guaranteed that they can keep their jobs. Citing examples of companies in Japan that have already implemented such systems, the proposal declares “We have seen that Japan has a latent ability to create flexible work environments and workstyles.”

By reducing the number of workers in offices and on commuter trains on a given day, the proposal would have a positive effect on anti-coronavirus efforts. However, that’s not its only goal. Other hoped-for benefits of letting people have a three-day weekend every week are giving them more time in their schedules for taking care of children or elderly relatives, pursuing educational opportunities such as graduate courses, and allowing them to explore side business ventures.

(The Japan Times recently reported on the 4-day week’s spread in response to the pandemic.)

However, HRM Asia notes that the proposal doesn’t talk about reducing hours while keeping wages steady:

Although workers’ job security would not be compromised, the proposal comes with a catch. It recommends that companies offering a four-day work week pay workers 80% of their base salary or 60% in the case of a three-day work week.

A concern that comes along with the proposal is that a shorter work week would lead to employee burnout as some might have to squeeze a week’s worth of work in a shorter time frame.

As I noted in my book Shorter, there are already a number of companies in Japan and Korea that were experimenting with shorter hours before the pandemic, and a number have adopted 4-day weeks in the last year, though more as a defense against losses. Banking giant Mizuho recently introduced options for prorated 4-day or 3-day weeks, following a move by SMBC Nikko Securities earlier this year. Toshiba moved some of its factory workers to 4-day week, while lengthening workday times. In mid-2020, the Japan Business Federation recommended companies consider 4-day weeks.

So Inoguchi’s proposal is rather like ones put forward by politicians like Jacinda Ardern in New Zealand and Nicola Sturgeon in Scotland: they follow businesses who’ve already shown that it’s possible, but are driven by additional policy and social concerns.