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Social Spotlight: Work-style reform is the solution to firms' busiest times

The UQ Communications booth, center, is seen at Wireless Japan 2009. (Mainichi)

"My company is in its second year of work-style reform. But I opposed the changes to our working culture proposed by Ms. Yamada Yukiko from the General Administration & Human Resources Department for a year before that, so really it's been three years."

    This is from a speech by Nozaka Akio, president of UQ Communications Inc., to his employees. Now, UQ is so actively trying to increase its discount smartphone market share that you can't watch TV without encountering the company's advertisements. But three years ago, UQ was preparing for a new entry into the smartphone market, in addition to its main business of mobile data communications -- resulting in skyrocketing workloads.

    Virtually the entire firm held fast to the idea that work-style reform was incompatible with UQ's business expansion. Yamada, however, did not give up on the idea, and continued to propose changing the company's work culture whenever she saw an opportunity to get the message across.

    Yamada kept up the campaign for about a year, studying practical examples from other firms, and discussing the essence and significance of reforms with Nozaka. Nozaka apparently eventually decided he would not "put work-style reform off until later," but that UQ needed "a complete re-evaluation of how we work through prioritizing tasks, all the more because we are busy."

    From that aha moment, Nozaka, Yamada and the human resources department began working together. First, UQ held a lecture on work-style reform attended by every single member of the company, including Nozaka and the other senior executives. The concept that really hit home was that Japanese should convert their way of working from that of a developing society with a high population of working aged people (15-64) to that of a developed and aging society. From that day on, UQ's work-style reform program got underway.

    I often hear people say that work-style reforms only happen at firms where the president is highly conscious of the concept, and that the corporate culture at their own companies is different. However, just as in the UQ case, there are many firms where it was the tenacious negotiation of a single employee that brought about change.

    What's special about the UQ example is that the firm adopted reforms while in the thick of an extremely busy period brought on by expansion into a new market. UQ decided to ban overtime past 8 p.m., began encouraging early morning work, and implemented training sessions on improving the efficiency of meetings.

    Furthermore, the sales planning team not only improved efficiency, but even cut some preexisting duties altogether to cope with the growing amount of work coming in. As a result, the team managed to allocate 15 percent of its working hours to business planning instead of the 5 percent it originally did.

    Work-style reform is not just about cutting down overtime, improving work efficiency and output. It is about the very essence of work management, such as re-examining how tasks are distributed among team members. Awareness of this is apparently spreading throughout UQ.

    Since the reforms' launch, average overtime at UQ has dropped by about 10 percent, while the company has met profit targets in all of its business categories. Employees are also paid a work-style reform support benefit, which covers skill improvement programs.

    Yoshie Komuro

    Because the House of Representatives was dissolved in September, submission of a work-style reform-related bill has been pushed into January 2018. However, it is an urgent task for this nation to implement work-style reforms to limit working hours and achieve good business results. (By Yoshie Komuro, president of Work-Life Balance Co. Ltd.)

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