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The ups and downs of working hours in Japan

Long hours are part and parcel of banking – most of the time. While the financial crisis has seen many people in banking working even longer hours than normal, it appears that some have actually been working less.

“Yes, some firms did impose ‘zero-overtime’ or ‘maximum-overtime’ policies during the worst part of this financial crisis,” says Pete Millett, director of recruitment firm People Services International.

In other cases, Millett says some firms insisted on employees using up accrued leave, or ‘voluntarily’ agreeing to switch to contract or part-time positions in order to allow them to stay on the payroll. As the crisis has eased and corporate profits have returned, however, most firms have been able to roll-back these policies.

Iwona Bancerek, senior consultant, finance, at CDS Consulting, says during the crisis major Japanese banks implemented a mandatory ‘leaving early time’ (called ‘hayagaeri’) approximately every two weeks, while some domestic securities houses implemented a strict 5pm work-time limit for associate-level employees in order to reduce overtime payments.

These schedules typically exclude job functions such as trading, Bancerek adds. Senior staff are often the ones who stay longer because they don’t receive overtime payments.

And here’s something that goes against stereotypes: Bancerek says people in the foreign firms are now tending to work more.

“Many positions are not being replaced and this is causing rather long working hours for incumbents. Banks encourage temporary staff to leave early to save on overtime payments, and full-time employees (usually analyst level) have got busier to cover all the workload,” she says.

And not every has been asking staff to stop work early for non-financial reasons. Taking part in a recent week-long national campaign aimed at reversing Japan’s declining population trend, MUFG recently sent an email to employees telling them to knock off an hour and 50 minutes early for some “family time.”

They might not be overworked, but if the time off was used a MUFG hoped, chances are they were still tired at work the next morning.

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