Don't Skip Vacation... Take a Workation!

Don't Skip Vacation... Take a Workation!

    NHK World
    Senior Correspondent
    NHK World
    Japanese people have a deserved reputation for working excessive hours at the expense of their personal lives. Many admit to feeling guilty about taking time off for holidays. In rare cases, employees have worked themselves to death. Japan has even coined a term for this phenomenon: karoshi.

    Government officials and managers are trying to change this culture by pushing a new way of working that combines business and leisure -- the "workation".

    What's a “workation"?

    An employee taking a "workation" can write a project proposal while staying at a resort, for example, or join a meeting from a remote island by video conference.

    The concept makes it easier for workers to enjoy longer holidays, and helps to improve their work-life balance. Companies benefit too, by getting more productivity and creativity from their employees.

    In recent years, many US and European firms have embraced this new work-style, and now companies in Japan are taking a close interest.

    Firms Introducing Workations

    Japan Airlines is among a group of companies that are encouraging staff to take "workations". The firm allows all employees apart from pilots and flight attendants to travel with a company laptop so they can use a day or two for work while on extended holidays.

    Microsoft Japan is another company leading the charge. The company abolished the cap on the number of days that employees can work remotely. It says the change gave some workers the impetus they needed to go on vacation and get a job done from there. Many tech firms and startups are following in the footsteps of JAL and Microsoft.

    Japanese Bad at Vacationing

    One reason the trend has caught on is that Japanese people often feel hesitant about taking time off.

    A survey by Expedia Japan of workers around the world found that the average Japanese respondent uses just half of their paid holidays. It was the lowest amount out of the 30 countries included in the survey. At least 60% of Japanese participants said they feel guilty when they're away from the office, and 20% said they constantly check their work emails while on holidays. Researchers at the travel website say Japanese workers are bad at taking vacations, and can't get work out of their minds even when they're away.

    New Chances

    The "workation" trend is creating opportunities for companies and resort areas.

    Leading real estate firm Mitsubishi Estate is launching an office space rental service at a beach resort in western Japan. The site will have fast, unlimited internet access and a conference room. Mitsubishi says it will also offer client companies tips and ideas to ensure they get the most out of "workations." Hotels and shared workspace providers are among other businesses that are setting up venues and pitching "workation" programs.

    Some local governments view the new work-style as a chance to revive their economies. Shirahama, a town in western Japan, is promoting itself as a "workation" destination. The town has opened shared workspaces close to beaches and other sightseeing spots in the hope of attracting tourists and investment.

    Workation is Here to Stay

    Will "workations" be a passing fad in Japan?

    Shigeru Matsumura is a professor at Tohoku University of Art and Design, and an expert on teleworking. He says "workations" will likely encounter some hurdles in the short term, but eventually increase in popularity.

    One potential stumbling block is getting people to overcome the fear and guilt they experience when they're not physically in the office. For that to happen, Professor Matsumura says, the government needs to encourage people to vacation more, and companies need to get behind the idea of remote working. Matsumura also says there needs to be better internet access and more shared workspaces.

    Japan's workforce is aging rapidly, so increasing productivity and efficiency are essential to economic growth. The "workation" may be just the thing that helps bring a much needed fundamental change to workplace culture.