Nov 7 2017 How flexible are Japanese work hours?

Not keen on the standard nine to five? We give you three key pointers on how to identify flexible work styles in Japan.

  • “Sairyo Rodosei”: discretionary labor system
  • Flex hour system in Japan explained
  • Jobs and companies where flexible work is more commonly practiced


Not a fan of crowded trains? Have particular hours in the day where you work more productively? Flexible work hours are more likely to accommodate such preferences. We give you three key work conditions to help identify companies with flexible work systems while job hunting.

Look out for “Sairyo Rodosei” in the work conditions

If you are looking for complete freedom of deciding your start hour and end hour, the best work condition you can look for in work contract is “Sairyo Rodosei (裁量労働制)”. Sairyo Rodosei can be translated as the ‘discretionary labor system’ in English or simply put, flexible work hours.

For this work condition, you have autonomy of deciding how you work because you will not be paid based on the actual work hours but the work hours that you are expected to need for your job.

This work hour system is applicable only to certain types of jobs where the job performance can be maximized if the employees are given full autonomy. The type of professions where flexible work hours are in place include law, accounting, creative/web design, editing, consulting, R&D etc.

One thing you should be careful is that this type of work condition is usually difficult to apply to new graduate students. This is because in order for you to have full autonomy of deciding your work hours, you are expected to have good experience and skillset. This pre-condition therefore can sometimes make it less common for new graduate students to have flexible work conditions when joining a company for the first time.

Super flex hour systems vs. flex hour system with core hours

While many companies in Japan decide the starting time and ending time for work hours, there are companies that are adopting different flexible work hour systems.

Japanese companies most commonly have flex systems that operate on a “Core Hour” basis. For this “Core hour” you have to be committed to working oftentimes in the office. As long as you cover this core hour, you can decide the start/end of your working hours and oftentimes your work location. For instance, a company may enforce 10-5pm as the core hours of a company’s operation. Work contracts will often enforce an 8hr work day so you can choose to work at 10am and finish at 7pm or start at 8am and finish at 5pm – so long as the stipulated hours agreed to in a contract are fulfilled, you can choose  your schedule so long as you commit to the 10-5pm office hours.

On the more liberal spectrum of work systems, some companies enforce a ‘super flexible’ system where there are no core hours. In the absence of work hours, employees are not contracted to work a certain number of hours so long as key tasks are met. In addition to the autonomy employees have to choose their working hours, they are often also able to choose where they work (i.e. remote vs. in the office).

The argument for ‘core hour’ flex systems is the ability to realize better work/life balance while operationally being in synch with the rest of your team. There is enough flexibility in this to accommodate personal preferences and needs – e.g. to avoid crowded trains; run errands for your family after work, etc. while ensuring adequate time to complete tasks within a team. Furthermore, there is a distinction between work and personal hours which, in ‘super flex’ systems can be difficult to separate. Indeed, ‘super flex’ systems are arguably most conducive for more individualized work that does not require as much direct collaboration or management within a team.

One negative part about flex hour systems is that even if you work over 8 hours a day (which is set as legal maximum daily work hour). As long as your total work hours do not exceed the company’s set total hours, you will not be entitled to overtime payment (which is 120% of usual hourly wage).

Look for Startups, R&D, Tech jobs, and creative jobs!

Be it Sairyo Rodosei or flex hour system, there certain jobs and companies where flexible work styles are more common.

Startups in general prefer flexible hour systems. This is because many of the startups are tech companies and the majority of employees are IT engineers who can perform better in flexible work conditions. That said, globally this is arguably the primary industry where such work systems are most commonly enforced and thus expected.

Leadership within startup companies also tend to be relatively younger and as such try to enforce more liberal work environments. Although there is a significant variance in work styles amongst startup companies in Japan, in general, startup work conditions can very much be the antithesis of larger, older Japanese establishments.

As for the types of jobs, as mentioned above in the section of Sairyo Rodosei, jobs that are considered to be more “specialized” or where job performance is demonstrably higher if given more autonomy in work hours/style. These jobs are more often R&D jobs, creative jobs, IT jobs etc.

Although known for its rigorous work ethic, Japan is definitely making strides to implement work environments that encourage greater flexibility and work/life balance amongst its employees that also heighten productivity. Across media outlets and national newspapers, the word “Hatarakikata Kaikaku” (Work style revolution) is evidently becoming a national conversation. Much of the impetus for change has been brought about through stress-related work tragedies, excessive overtime and an underutilization of annual leave. Such incidences have prompted greater urgency across companies to consider work environments that safeguard its employees and the company’s future. The conversation on creating better working conditions and environments is undoubtedly growing momentum. With changes happening every day, one can expect new initiatives such as flextime to become more commonplace in Japan’s future economy.

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