Work-life balance

Success can be an addiction

The Atlantic reports that though success isn’t a conventional medical addiction, it has addictive properties for many people. Praise stimulates the neurotransmitter dopamine, which is connected to addictive behaviors. Success addiction is known to have a negative effect on human relationships. People choose to travel for business on anniversaries, and they miss their children’s important milestones while working long hours. Some even decide to focus on their careers and forgo marriage.

Many scholars, such as the psychologist Barbara Killinger, have found that people are willing to overwork to keep getting "hits" of success at the expense of their well-being. They shelve a much-needed rest from work and time with family and friends until after a project, or a promotion, but that day never arrives.

Leadership and work-life balance

According to the Harvard Business Review (HBR), it is possible to be a business leader and still have a personal life with careful planning, but most people wouldn’t know this if they look at some of the most successful CEOs out there. Tesla CEO Elon Musk rarely sleeps or sees his kids and had a public meltdown, and Apple’s Tim Cook is on email before the sun rises.

These intense work styles are often celebrated as the only way to get to the top and be a super-productive leader. Surveys show that managers and executives describe the ideal worker as someone with no personal life or caregiving responsibilities.

How to be more productive

It’s difficult to be productive when you work at home. Sometimes, you are busy all day and don't make any progress on important work.

Some people tell themselves to “Try harder!” or blame themselves for not achieving enough. Other people work with a long to-do list and try to do many tasks at the same time. But these solutions aren’t helpful.

Instead, you should do this:

Japan introduces a 4-day work week

According to the Japan Times, the Japanese government plans to encourage firms to allow their employees to choose to work four days a week instead of five, aiming to improve the balance between work and life for people who have family care responsibilities.

The coronavirus pandemic has helped the idea of a four-day workweek gain traction as the health crisis has caused people to spend more time at home.

Experts are divided, however, on whether the new initiative, intended to address challenges posed by Japan’s labor shortage, will be widely accepted. Labor and management are both voicing concerns about possible unwanted outcomes.

For employers, while people working four days a week may become more motivated, this may not improve their productivity enough to compensate for the lost workday. An expected advantage is helping people with family care responsibilities avoid the need to quit their jobs.

Microsoft trials shorter work-weeks

CNN and multiple other news agencies around the world have reported that Microsoft introduced a program this summer in Japan called the "Work Life Choice Challenge." Microsoft shut down its offices every Friday in August. Managers also urged staff to cut down on the time spent in meetings, suggesting that these last no longer than 30 minutes.

The results were a bit counterintuitive as productivity, which is measured by sales per employee, rose by almost 40% compared to the same period the previous year. According to Microsoft, the effects were felt across the company. More than 90% of its 2,280 employees in Japan later said they were impacted by the new measures. By shutting down earlier each week, the company was also able to save on other resources, such as electricity.

Tired? Maybe you're actually lonely

More and more people are feeling both tired and lonely at work. In analyzing the General Social Survey of 2016, close to 50% of people say they are often or always exhausted due to work.

What’s more, there is a significant correlation between feeling lonely and work exhaustion: the more exhausted people are, the lonelier they feel.

This loneliness is not a result of social isolation, but rather is due to the emotional exhaustion of workplace burnout. The problem seems to be pervasive across professions and up and down corporate hierarchies.

Loneliness, whether it results from social isolation or exhaustion, has serious consequences for individuals. Research by Sarah Pressman, of the University of California, Irvine, demonstrates that while obesity reduces longevity by 20%, drinking by 30%, and smoking by 50%, loneliness reduces it by a whopping 70%.

Worshipping workaholism

In August, an emotional Elon Musk described how he was working so hard to keep production of the Tesla Model 3 on track that he missed his own birthday. Musk had been working 120-hour weeks, often not leaving the factory for three or four days.

Musk has long been celebrated by the business press for his work ethic. His extraordinary schedule—a long working day broken into five-minute increments, so that every second is accounted for—has been reported, approvingly, for some years now.

Historically, the boss who dedicates his life—every second of it—to corporate success has been an icon of the U.S. boardroom. Could Musk’s tearful disclosure be the moment all that changes?

Japan moves towards labour reform

Japan's lower house on May 31 approved controversial labour reforms that the government has defended as necessary to boost the economy. But, critics warn could result in more death by overwork. The legislation would scrap hourly overtime pay for some employees, while setting overtime caps for others at an annual limit of 360 hours for normal cases, and up to 720 hours for "temporary" and "special" cases. 

The government says the measures will boost efficiency and equality, and they form a key plank of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's "Abenomics" policy to kickstart the country's sluggish economy. The reform's key feature is letting Japan's corporate sector hire select highly paid professionals, such as currency traders and consultants, on contracts which include no overtime pay. The category only applies to those who earn at least 10.75 million yen ($100,000USD) annually, with employers required to seek the consent of professionals involved.

Japan promotes 5-day workweek

The government plans to promote a five-day workweek for construction workers involved in public works projects as part of its work-style reform initiative. Construction workers tend to work more than five days a week because many are under pressure to complete projects faster. Less than 10 percent of construction projects in the country see workers take eight days off over a four-week period.

The ministry will pay up to 5 percent more in labor costs for state-managed public works projects in which workers take two days off per week, to prevent a dip in construction incomes due to the shortened workweek.

The construction industry faces an urgent need to improve its working environment to attract younger workers because many older workers are set to retire in the near future. Of all skilled construction workers in the country, those between the ages of 15 and 29 account for only 11 percent, compared with 25 percent for those 65 or older.

U.S. lacks paid maternity leave

In most American families led by couples, both parents are in the workforce. At the same time, nearly 1 in 4 U.S. children are being raised by single moms. Yet child care is generally unaffordable and paid leave is not available to most U.S. parents.

The 1993 Family and Medical Leave Act in the U.S. did mandate 12 weeks of unpaid job protected leave for some American workers. Yet most families can’t forgo the income that moms bring home.

In Denmark, moms get almost 18 weeks of paid maternity leave and dads get two weeks of paid paternity leave. On top of that, couples get up to a total 32 weeks of parental leave, which parents can split.

Let workers sleep

Many business leaders still believe that time on-task equates to productivity. However, studies have shown that shorter amounts of sleep lead to both lower efficiency and slower completion of basic tasks. That is, sleepy employees are unproductive employees, and they generate fewer and less accurate solutions to problems.

Many people don't understand that when you are not getting enough sleep, you work less productively and thus need to work longer hours to accomplish a goal, creating a negative feedback loop.

The effects of sleep deficiency on CEOs and supervisors are equally powerful. On days when the supervisor was under-slept, the employees rated them as having worse self-control and being more abusive to others.

Allowing and encouraging employees, supervisors, and executives to arrive at work well rested makes them productive individuals who inspire and support one another. Ounces of sleep offer pounds of business in return.

Cleaning is good for you

Mental health counselors often recommend that clients clean their home environments every day. Dirt and squalor can be symptoms of unhappiness or illness.

But cleanliness is not only about mental health. It is the most basic practice that all forms of Japanese Buddhism have in common. In Japanese Buddhism, it is said that what you must do in the pursuit of your spirituality is clean, clean, clean. This is because the practice of cleaning is powerful.

The routines whereby we sweep, wipe, polish, wash and tidy are one step on the path towards inner peace. The self is not separated from its environment, and cleaning expresses our respect for and sense of wholeness with the world that surrounds us.

Creative work/life balance solution

A purple cape has become an unlikely weapon in Japan's efforts to get its workers to work fewer hours. Employees at a Tokyo-based IT services company were recently forced to wear such "embarrassment" capes if they worked late on the third Wednesday of the month.

The shaming tactic worked: The amount of overtime worked was cut in half. This was not a case, however, of bosses imposing cape-wearing from on high. Instead, the company’s president and another senior colleague asked employees for their suggestions on ways to cut down on overtime after attending a training course on work-life balance, and the employees suggested the cape.

Branson supports shorter work-week

While hard work is certainly the key to success, billionaire Richard Branson maintains that there is value in taking time away from the office to unplug and decompress. In a recent blog post, the entrepreneur explains why a three or four day work week can actually be beneficial to the future workforce.

"The idea of working five days a week with two-day weekends and a few weeks of annual holiday is just something people accept," he writes. "For some reason, it is considered set in stone by most companies. There is no reason this can't change. In fact, it would benefit everyone if it did."

At his own company, Virgin Management, Branson explains how they've embraced a flexible work schedule where people have options on how, when and where they work. He says with the progression of technology, he believes this flexibility will also become more of a common practice in the future.

US work culture and technology

On Wednesday, Melinda Gates joined LinkedIn (now owned by Microsoft) and penned her first column about changing the high-pressure culture.

She writes that in fact technology has made it harder to pull away from our jobs, and easier to wonder whether a night off or a long weekend is damaging our careers.

The result is a work ethic that hurts everyone. When companies demand that employees work themselves into the ground, those that want to balance career with family life lean out. Some of them leave the corporate world altogether, which limits diversity.

And those who stay are less productive. They have to dedicate so much energy to simply keeping their heads above water, instead of thinking of ways to create more value.

Yamato reduces delivery times

Yamato Transport Co. has modified its parcel delivery time slots to reduce the burden on overworked drivers handling a sharp increase in parcels.

As of Monday, the door-to-door parcel delivery firm no longer allows noon to 2 p.m. as a designated delivery time so drivers can take a lunch break.

In addition, the company replaced the latest time slot in the day of 8 p.m. to 9 p.m. with a new slot of 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. to avoid the concentration of delivery orders in the final one hour.

In line with the change, Seven & I Holdings Co., Lawson Inc. and other retailers that offer online shopping using Yamato’s delivery services have revised their delivery time slots.

Premium Fridays in Japan

Faced with slack consumption and soul-searching over Japan’s notoriously poor work-life balance, the government is asking companies to allow their workers to leave at 3pm on the last Friday of the month.

The hope is that they will use those extra hours of freedom to shop, make an early start to their Friday libations or go on a weekend break.