Parental Leave in Japan – Is Having a Policy Enough?

In Japan, two companies make headlines, as they face lawsuits alleging retaliation against employees who took their paternity leave.  How well do you understand cultural perception?  Do your local employees feel able to take leave?

Global leave programs are on the rise.  However, in some countries, having access to a leave policy doesn’t necessarily mean that the corporate or local culture promotes its use.  In Japan, two companies make headlines as they face lawsuits from men alleging retaliation for taking paternity leave.1  On social media, others have made similar accusations, sharing stories, of being relocated to sites not near their families or having their careers sidelined entirely.1 This occurs despite recent initiatives by the Japanese government to promote parental leave.2  These examples show that even if an employee has access to a public or company leave policy, it may not be. These realities have important ramifications for global employers. 

Japan’s parental leave policies are considered to be among the world’s most generous.  UNICEF ranks Japan #1 for paternity leave among 41 countries.3 Leave policies in Japan provide both men and women partially paid leave of up to a year,  more if there is no public child care.  However, few men take the leave, citing associated stigma, and so the benefit is seldomly used.2 In Japan, the perception is that paternity leave is frowned upon.2 In a 2015 Mitsubishi UFJ Consulting survey of 1,100 Japanese dads, 26.6% didn’t take paternity leave because they felt the atmosphere at work didn’t encourage it.1 According to an August 2019 poll by Kyodo News on 112 major companies, when asked to report the rate of men taking child care leave,  over half of respondent companies indicated that it was less than 10%, while only 20% of those companies said that the rate was 50% or higher.3 In fact, only 6% of eligible fathers took child care leave last year, and most of them took less than a week off, according to government data.2  While the 6% take up rate is double the rate from a few years ago (3 %) , it is far short of the 13% target set by the government for 2020.2

Despite these bleak statistics, government policies, country campaigns and leading companies’ programs, are continuing to introduce initiatives to change the course. In fact, earlier this month, Japan’s Environment Minister, Shinjiro Koizumi, is first minister and MP to take paternity leave to take care of his newborn son. He is trying to be a role model for other dads to follow.

Government Initiatives Advocating Family-Friendly Benefits

Japan’s birthrate is 1.478, which places it in the bottom 20th country in the world.4 For a country to maintain its population, it should have a birthrate of 2.1. Japan falls below that threshold. For those who do have children, families with two working parents struggle to find child care, which is quite limited and expensive. In October 2018, more than 47,000 Japanese families were on waiting lists for day care.5 In addition, many women are not returning to the workforce after having a child.  According to a 2015 article on this topic, 60% of women leave their job after childbirth.6 In an effort to increase its birthrate and engage women in the workforce, the Japanese government has implemented several initiatives to promote work/life balance for both men and women:

Parental Leave Improvements

In 2014, Japan increased the payout of parental leave from 67%, as long as men didn’t work more than 10 days a month, to 80%, as long as men didn’t work more than 80 hours a month.1

Paternity Leave Subsidies

In 2015, Japan’s Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare introduced subsidies for companies that let fathers take time off to care for their young children, part of efforts to promote women's participation in the workforce.6 Companies that have had no male employees take child care leave over the past 3 years will be eligible for the Ministry's program.6 The amount of the subsidy varies based on the size of the company. More subsidies are given if more fathers take paternity leave.6

Daycare Certification

Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare developed the Kurumin certification (in Japanese) to accredit employers’ on-site day care facilities.7 This program was designed to provide more child care opportunities given the limited existing resources and long waiting lists.5

Womenics

In 2013, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe launched Womenics, a multiprong initiative to empower women in the workplace by encouraging them to become more represented in management and political leadership. The initiative also increased access to child care services for working parents.8,9 Six years later, Japan has seen the number of women return to work increase by more than a third.8,10

Country Resources

Fathering Japan (in Japanese) is a Japanese organization focused on establishing family rearing equality for both men and women.11 It organizes the Ikuboss Corporate Alliance.11 An "Ikuboss" is defined as a manager at any level who produces good results for their company by supporting his or her team in achieving a good work–life balance, while also setting a good example by enjoying a good balance between his or her own work and personal life.11 The Ikuboss Alliance is a network of Japanese companies that recognize the need for such managers and are working to transform mindsets among their management–level staff, with the aim of cultivating a new kind of management style.11 Additionally, Fathering Japan offers manager training and several other resources.11

Company Examples

Many companies have implemented programs to change the narrative and promote leave and a family- friendly environment.

MSD, a pharmaceutical company, offers flexible paternity leave, enabling dads to work from home or in the office for a certain number of days per month.1

Oriental Land Co., Ltd adopted a telecommuting program, and for its theme parks operations department, a more flexible shift pattern on a trial basis. This approach means that employees do not have to suspend their careers due to child-rearing and family care and allows them to return to work without any problems.12

Inter Action Corporation introduced the Family Support Leave Program.12  This program grants leave to allow employees to  provide nursing care for family members, attend school events or have time off due to morning sickness or infertility treatment.12 The leave-taking ratio has increased not only for women but also for men, creating an opportunity for men  to understand the obstacles women face in juggling child care and work at the same time.12

Taisei Corporation encourages male employees to share child-rearing responsibilities.12 Since 2016, the company has placed special emphasis on work style reform.12 Specific efforts include the achievement of almost 100% usage rate of child care leave and the introduction of partially paid child care leave.12 The usage rate of child care leave increased from around 2% in 2016 to 94% , leading to an increase in employee satisfaction.12

The President of Japan Post Bank Co., Ltd. personally issued a declaration to become an “Ikuboss;” namely, a manager who supports fathers in taking child care leave and enabling women to play a more active role in business.  For two consecutive years, the president has taken advantage of every opportunity to communicate in his own words the importance of promoting diversity and inclusion.12 The number of employees in internal committees has  increased more than tenfold over the previous year ; the goal of the committees has been to reorganize and develop a scheme for direct and more detailed attention to honest opinions expressed by employees.12 The PDCA for promoting D&I has been bolstered to spur business growth.12

Recommendations for Employers

  • Review your workforce strategy in Japan and develop processes to adequately cover the work of both men and women when they are out on parental leave
  • Train leaders and managers on promoting work/life balance and have them set the example by taking parental leave when having children.
  • Ensure that women are represented in leadership, management and HR roles. Statistically, companies have seen higher parental leave usage when women are adequately represented throughout the organization.13
  • Seek input from Employee Resource Groups relating to parental leave policies and family-friendly benefits.
  • Be aware of the unspoken culture within the local offices. Ensure that managers and those with direct reports are promoting and encouraging the use of leave and family- friendly policies

Relevant Business Group on Health Resources

References

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