Reducing long working hours has been a high priority in the agenda to improve work conditions in Japan. Towards this aim, the government has introduced legislation and policy measures, and corporations have modified their human resource policies to help employees strike better work-life balance. Yet, working hours in Japan have remained virtually unchanged since the 1990s. In this talk, I argue that the true causes of long working hours lie not in the “observable” barriers such as compensation schemes, public policy and law, but rather are embedded in “unobservable” or “unmeasurable” attributes such as social norms and work conventions. Understanding this problem better requires an approach that accounts for both economic principles (which focus on monetary rewards and incentives) and sociological perspectives which pay closer attention to the social-institutional context. I argue that long working hours in Japan stem from the institutional complementarities of the Japanese employment system and the cultural particularities underlying it. I discuss the role of the input-driven society, work conventions that rely on signaling, internal labor market structure, group consciousness and hierarchy, ambiguous job functions, and the traditional gender division of labor. I close by proposing measures to reduce working hours that follow from my analysis.
Hiroshi Ono (Ph.D. Sociology, University of Chicago) is Professor of Human Resource Management at the Graduate School of International Corporate Strategy, Hitotsubashi University and Affiliated Professor of Sociology at Texas A&M University. His research interests include economic sociology, work and labor markets, and happiness. He has extensive international experience, having held professional and academic positions in the U.S., Japan and Sweden. His work has won a number of awards such as the Best Paper Award from the Labor and Employment Relations Association, and Rosabeth Moss Kanter Top 20 Paper Award for Excellence in Work-Family Research. He is the author of the book, Redistributing Happiness: How Social Policies Shape Life Satisfaction (with Kristen Schultz Lee, 2016). His papers have appeared in the American Sociological Review, Journal of Japanese and International Economies, Social Forces, Social Science Quarterly and Social Science Research, among others.