A Japanese marketing firm is taking a new approach to improving the health and productivity of its employees. The Tokyo-based company Piala Inc. is offering six additional paid vacation days a year to employees who don't take smoke breaks.
For the company's smokers, grabbing a cigarette meant heading down to the basement from the 29th floor offices, and each break was lasting up to 15 minutes, causing a productivity issue according to the non-smoking employees.
"One of our non-smoking staff put a message in the company suggestion box earlier in the year saying that smoking breaks were causing problems" said company spokesman Hirotaka Matsushima. Non-smoking employees felt they were doing extra work but not being paid. "Our CEO saw the comment and agreed, so we are giving non-smokers some extra time off to compensate."
Ahead of the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo, Japan is feeling the pressure to improve city air quality, otherwise it risks becoming one of the unhealthiest hosts of the Olympic games in years. City initiatives look to tackle public smoking while more and more companies are introducing anti-smoking measures, including workday bans for employees, even when their work takes them out of the office, but the measures aren't all punitive.
Piala CEO Takao Asuka said " I hope to encourage employees to quit smoking through incentives rather than penalties or coercion.” One Japanese life insurance company converted former smoking rooms into employee lounges and also provides subsidies to employees in smoking cessation programs.
According to a World Health Organization report, 21.7% of Japanese adults smoke, though the percentages are higher among men and older generations. Mr. Asuka has said that 30 of the company's 120 employees have taken advantage of the new program, and four employees have quit smoking.
The additional paid vacation days may also help employees with an another common workplace health concern, overexertion. A 2015 survey conducted by Expedia Japan showed Japanese workers are the least likely to use their paid vacation time, most using an average of 39%. Japan itself in second only to the United States in another dubious category, least number of mandatory paid vacation days.
Work-related burnout is endemic among Japanese employees. A 2016 Reuters report showed work-related suicides had risen 45% in the last four years. Although labor demand has reached its highest point since 1991, the lax enforcement of labor laws can lead to exploitative business practices, with companies demanding more and more hours from employees.