Japan’s ‘workation’ encourage employees to take time off

JAPAN (The Japan News/ANN) – An employee can take part in a video conference during a trip back home over summer vacation, or they can do computer programming while travelling abroad. What are the merits of a workation?

The idea of a workation began in Europe and the United States and is popular with those in IT and those who can work mainly using a laptop while staying at a resort or other places. Many believe such a setup creates better work efficiency and helps promote fresh ideas by allowing the employees to visit different locales as they work.

Returning home

Japan Airlines set up a workation system last summer that applies to about 4,000 employees, not including those who work in shifts at airports and other places. Encouraging workers to take time off is the main goal. Some cases can be designated as workation, but others cannot.

For example, if an employee wants to take three days off but they would only be able to work on the afternoon of the second day, then it is accepted as a workation.

Asuka Nakamaru takes part in a video conference from her husband’s hometown in Hiroshima Prefecture in August. – PHOTOS: THE JAPAN NEWS/ANN

On the other hand, if the employee is unavailable to work every morning for the three days but they work every afternoon, it would be denied as the proportion of working time is too great.

Asuka Nakamaru, 38, who is in charge of personnel training at her company, utilised a workation last summer when she returned to her husband’s hometown in Hiroshima Prefecture.

Because she had to have a meeting during that time regarding a project for which she had been a pivotal member, she decided to use a workation.

Nakamaru set one day as a workation day during seven days off and then took part in a video conference. She finished work at 6pm and then went back to her vacation with her family.

Japanese tend to give top priority to work and postpone taking a break.

According to research by travel website Expedia Japan, surveying 9,424 people in 28 countries in 2016, the rate of paid holiday use in Japan was dead last in the world.

Correcting the long working hours is a pillar of the government’s work style reform plan. It is essential to impress upon every employee the necessity of breaks.

Tokyo-based IT service company Sonic Garden Inc also adopted a workation system. Tsukasa Nomoto, 23, an employee of the company, took a trip to South Korea last July to attend a friend’s wedding, utilising a workation and taking 11 days off.

On Saturday and Sunday he attended the ceremony and then worked five weekdays on his computer. The following two days were spent enjoying time off with friends there.

“I worked on the weekdays because my friends there worked on the weekdays, and staying here for so long let me see them more and brought us all closer together, which was great,” Nomoto said.

Enticing workation users

Some local governments are working to attract people to stay in their areas for their workation. The Wakayama prefectural government, for example, built a large facility with Internet access in Tanabe in the prefecture.

Hirotaka Kai, a chief manager of the personnel division at travel agency Hankyu Travel International Co, participated in an excursion last October organised by Wakayama Prefecture. “If we could take a week off and later spend several days working, it would be encouraging to take paid vacations,” Kai said.

Sufficient rest is key

It can be said that a workation is a version of telecommuting that incorporates areas like travel destinations. For workations to truly catch on, employees must first become accustomed to telecommuting.

“Most Japanese workers have only limited discretionary power to decide their own way of working. I am doubtful about whether a workation system will catch on,” said tourism producer Koji Chatani, who is familiar with working conditions abroad.

However, the government has set a target of having over 30 per cent of companies allow telecommuting by 2020.

A trend of allowing workations may ride on the coattails of this target.