Retaining Working Mothers in Japan – Part 3: Normalising Flexibility

In the 3rd part of the 4 part Retaining Working Mothers in Japan series (Introduction, Communication during Childcare Leave, Smooth On-ramping for Working Mothers), we focus on a mindset that is going to support the work/life balance of your whole team. This will pay dividends in terms of productivity, retention and motivation for all your team, not only working mothers.

Normalising Flexibility

Your most important role as a manager of a diverse team is to normalize different ways to work. There should be no feeling that a working mother is a burden on others or that she gets “special treatment”. This only breeds contempt and lack of support.

Companies who have the most success have an open policy on flexible working.  Policies that are not based around gender or family situations have the most impact. There is a growing trend in Japan to increase productivity and counteract karoshi through finding new working styles as shown at the 2017 at will work conference (Japanese only).

Clients are implementing the following best practices in flexible working:

  • 10 to 2pm core hours and working from home 2 days a week.
  • Easy for employees to move between reduced hours and FT hours with one months notice.
  • Flextime for all staff approved without needing specific reasons – an inclusive approach.

Technology is in place to allow remote access and people are trained how to work in virtual teams. Check out Google’s quick  Womenwill videos for more ideas (Japanese only)

A word on “Reduced hours”

The child care and family care leave law obliges employers to reduce working hours to six a day in principle for those taking care of children under 3 years old and offer them an exemption from overtime work on request. The Japan Times article highlights the struggle of working mothers who are trying to keep their careers on track when they cannot commit to daily overtime.

It is important that you communicate to all team members that “reduced hours” does not equal “part time”. Working reduced hours does not equal less commitment, passion or competence on the part of your employee. Ability to work overtime everyday also does not increase your value to the organisation.

For most parents, it is a logistics issue with the commute and childcare facilities closing sometimes as early as 6pm. When we were juggling 2 kids in 2 daycares 20 minutes away from each other, I took the reduced hours path. There was no way that I could do the pick up and drop off without it and my company did not offer flextime like my husband’s company did. It was a painful year to work at 75% of salary as well! I was on a constant education programme to remind people that I was a full time employee and was committed to deliver on my projects.

How are you normalising flexibility in your organisation? I’d love to hear your best practices and how you are improving work/life balance for everyone.



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