Working in a Japanese Company #11 – Work-life balance and overtime + COVID

Next up in my series of questions about working in Japan is all about my experience with overtime and work-life balance working in a Japanese company. COVID has also influenced some of these answers, but through answering these 3 questions below, this an overview of my experience with work-life balance and overtime working in a Japanese company.

Do you have a good work-life balance?

Yes! I would say that at my current company I have a good work life balance, but it really depends on the industry, the job, and the company in Japan. At my company, we all work hard but we leave at a reasonable time and I am not called to work on the weekends or anything that is unreasonable. Once I was called in for a meeting on a Saturday a few years ago, but that was an extreme circumstance. I work a 9 hour day with a hour of lunch in that and for the most part I end my work on time most days. I used to commute to work 3 hours round trip but now I work from home and go into the office only periodically because of COVID. I think I have this work life balance because I pushed for it at the beginning and set boundaries at my current job. At my past companies though I felt like there wasn’t a good balance and overtime was a given a lot of the time. I was told to come in earlier than I was supposed to and leave later than I was supposed to.

How does overtime work? Is it something everyone practices or is it restricted?

I’m not an expert, though I know there are labor laws in Japan about overtime and how much you can do (see here for a break down), but in many companies compensation for overtime is laid out in your contract. Some experience with contracts I’ve had are: base salary that includes overtime pay in the base salary, overtime after a certain time (usual with flex time, which is rare here), overtime right after regular work hours. Usually you won’t see this until the contract is in your hand though, but during an interview you can ask about the work culture to get an idea of if you have to work a lot of overtime or not. Only one of my companies had restricted overtime where you had to get manager approval/ the manager to sign off on the overtime before submitting to HR, but that was because people were taking advantage of the flex time system the company had. Overall, overtime seems to be an expected part of Japanese business culture to an extent, but it varies from company to company and job to job on the expectations.

Has COVID changed their perspective on Work-life balance?

To be honest, I don’t think so. In general, there doesn’t seem to be a fundamental change in the way that people work as a result of COVID from what I have seen because a lot of people didn’t work from home during COVID here in the first place, though government tried to emphasize it. There were a lot of bureaucratic barriers and infrastructure issues that prevented people, especially big companies, from working from home in Japan. I was lucky that I only need a laptop to do my job and my company was able to implement work from if we wanted to. I’ve been remote working since the end of March 2020, but how long this will last, I’m not sure… I think it’s inevitable based on the Japanese work culture that I will be returning to the office eventually once everything calms down in Japan and vaccinations progress more.

What is your experience with working overtime ? Has COVID changed your work situation for the better where you are? Is it similar to my experience in Japan? Let’s talk in the comments!

Part 10 | Part 12 (Coming Soon)

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