ILO_Japan_Friends’s diary

ILO Japan Friends’ diary



Intern report (3/4): Youth and the World of Work in the COVID19-From Perspective of Former ILO Tokyo Office Interns



Inspired by the ILO survey on the impact on young people, this paper reports the findings from three roundtable discussions with a total of eight former/current ILO Tokyo Office interns (20s-30s) conducted in June 2020. Listening to the real voices of each individual, this paper identifies the impacts of the pandemic experienced by ILO interns as well as the elements influencing young people's careers even before the outbreak in Japan. Besides, some ideas are noted to overcome the existing issues with a hope to suggest what “the future of work” might be from young people’s perspective.


Please check out previous posts at the following links.

Intern report (1/4)

Intern report (2/4)


4.    Persisting problems since before the pandemic    

 So far, we have seen the impact of the new coronavirus pandemic on young people, including former/current ILO interns. However, when roundtable participants talked about their concerns to their future careers, they often referred to problems that had persisted since before the pandemic; the ILO's report suggests that young people were facing a tough labour market even before the pandemic [1]. Therefore, Chapter 4 focuses on the factors suggested in the episodes of the roundtable participants that had an impact on young people's careers even before the outbreak. We will use the data to identify what makes the issues problematic for young people. For each theme, we will also present our ideas for what we can do to build a "better normal" in the world of work.

4.1 Work Style

4.1.1 Centralization in Tokyo

Two of the roundtable participants, from the Kansai and Kyushu area (Western and Southern Japan), mentioned that their career opportunities were centralized in Tokyo. When participant S moved to Tokyo for her graduate school, she realized that there was a disparity in access to internship opportunities and other seminars between Kansai (Western Japan) and Tokyo. On the other hand, participant J, who wanted to live with her parent in Fukuoka, said she had to look for a job in Tokyo because most of her work opportunities are centralized in Tokyo. These episodes from the participants are examples of how the centralization in Tokyo affects the career development of the younger generation.


Centralization in Tokyo is a phenomenon in which population, politics, and economic and other functions are concentrated in Tokyo and surrounding three prefectures (Kanagawa, Saitama, and Chiba). According to the National Institute of Population and Social Security Research, as of 2015, 28.4% of the total population was concentrated in Tokyo and surrounding three prefectures, and this percentage is expected to increase in the future[2]. While the population is expected to decline in 46 prefectures in 2045, only Tokyo's population is expected to remain at the same level as in 2015 (100.7%)[3]. It indicates that the centralization of population in Tokyo has accelerated over the five years from 2010 to 2015.


One of the main reasons for the concentration of population in Tokyo is the influx of young people. According to the Statistics Bureau of the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications, the largest number of people aged 20-24 years old moved into the Tokyo metropolitan area (79,964) in 2019, followed by those aged 25-29 (28,084) and those aged 15-19 (24,485)[4]. This figure shows that, as the participants in the roundtable discussions, many young people move to Tokyo to enter universities or graduate schools, or to find a job.


This movement of the younger generation is related to the concentration of universities and companies in Tokyo. A quarter of the students enrolled in universities nationwide are studying in Tokyo, and more than 40% in Tokyo and surrounding three prefectures[5]. Moreover, the number of listed companies' headquarters in Tokyo is 1,823, which is more than half of the total in Japan. In terms of the ratio of the number of listed companies' headquarters to the national total, it increased by more than 5% in the Tokyo metropolitan area between 2004 and 2015 (conversely, it decreased by more than 5% in the Western area)[6]. It suggests that the influx of young people to Tokyo is related to the abundant options of universities and employers.


With such a high centralization of attractive academic and employment options and encounters with new people in Tokyo, the gap between rural and metropolitan areas is expected to continue to widen. However, the spread of COVID-19 has brought some positive changes. It has led seminars, internships, and classes going online, and some large companies start adopting teleworking as a new working style. Rather than viewing these moves as temporary measures, it is important to discuss the advantages and disadvantages of the new ways of learning/teaching and working that were "experimented" with due to the pandemic so that we can make use of this experience to solve the problems that existed before the pandemic.


In addition to the disparity in opportunities between the Tokyo metropolitan area and rural areas, there are other problems caused by Tokyo concentration such as crowded trains, waiting lists for nurseries, and pressure on household budgets due to the high living expense in the Tokyo metropolitan area. Currently teleworking is getting a lot of attention as a way to work with mobility, but it will be necessary to consider how to achieve a more systematic decentralization of people and employment such as office relocations and the expansion of regional office functions. Since many young people feel positive about expanding their options for where they study, work, and live, this discussion is expected to become more active in the future.

4.1.2 Long working hours

When we asked about barriers to career development in the roundtable, long working hours in Japan was mentioned. Participant S felt that it is difficult for workers to change their careers and have opportunities to learn as they are too constrained by their jobs, which is not good for both the individual worker and society.


The issue of long working hours has been discussed and tackled since before a while. According to the Japan Institute for Labour Policy and Training (JILPT) the percentage of workers working more than 49 hours per week was 19% in 2018. Although it is still high compared to European countries, it shows an improvement from 28.3% in 2000[7]. To strengthen measures against long working hours, the Act on the Arrangement of Related Acts to Promote Work Style Reform came into force in 2019. Under this new law, overtime is set to 45 hours per month and 360 hours per year in principle, with limits set for extraordinary and special circumstances[8]. In particular, penalties are now stipulated, which is different from the previous law.


Despite legislation to reduce long working hours and a decrease in the number of working hours in the statistics, it appears that the reputation of long hours in the Japanese workplace is not completely negative. According to the Cabinet Office, people who work long hours feel that their bosses and co-workers have a positive image of those who work overtime, while "working little or no overtime and coming home on time" is not valued in their personnel evaluations[9]. It means that those who work longer are more appraised in many workplaces, but rather those who work overtime are valued more.


Although long working hours tend to be evaluated positively in the workplace, its influence on health cannot be overlooked. In addition to empirical evidence that long working hours can be a factor that can damage mental health, it is also revealed that the risk of mental health problems increases when employees work longer hours without payment [10]. Interestingly, demographic group cited overtime work without payment cited as a factor in the deterioration of mental health among male workers who graduated from university who are younger than 40 years old. On the other hand, women and those who had not graduated from university were more likely to experience deterioration in their mental health as time commitment increased, regardless of whether they were paid for their work.


According to a JILPT survey (targeting workers aged 20-33 at the time of the survey), more than 20% of both men and women left their first full-time job because of "poor conditions of working hours, days off, and holiday", "poor wages", "poor condition of wages", "physical and mental health problems" and "poor workplace relationships”[11]. This result shows that working conditions that can harm physical and mental health could affect young workers' decisions to leave their first job. Also, the average working hours per week is about 5 hours longer for those who left their companies (50.5 hours for men and 47.2 hours for women) than for those who continue to work (45.9 hours for men and 42.8 hours for women), and the percentage of those who worked 60 hours or more per week among those who left their companies (24.4% for men and 16.8% for women) was also twice as high as those who are working (11.1% of men and 6.9% of women)[12]. It indicates that long working hours are associated with a high turnover.


Then, what is the ideal way for young people to work? A survey of 300 young people in their first to the third year of working found that 90% of young people need to work no more than 5.5 hours a day to secure the ideal time to sleep, commute, eat and enjoy hobbies and self-development[13]. While this result might be extreme, the emphasis on livelihood is also evident in other surveys. According to a survey by a human resource company, about 80% of full-time employees in their 20s to 30s said that “working is mainly a commercial activity for them only to earn a living”, “they want to work in moderation because they want to have a better life outside of work”, and that “they would like to be evaluated based on results rather than working hours”.[14]


Long working hours is also affecting relationships and marriages. Participants in the roundtable discussions said that long working hours makes it difficult to find time to meet new people outside of the workplace, and therefore, to start a new relationship. And even if they were able to start a relationship, the effects of long working hours are noticeable; 72% of men and women who work more than 40 hours of overtime per month have experienced a troubled relationship, and 69% have experienced a troubled marriage life[15]. This suggests that working long hours can be one of the barriers for young people who want to have a relationship or get married.


Although working long hours affects workers' mental health, turnover, quality of life, and even relationships and marriages, there is a lack of awareness of the risks of working long hours in the workplace and among workers themselves. Also, it could be dangerous to try to reduce the number of work hours without recognizing the background of long working hours, such as high workloads, lack of human resources, lack of management, and corporate culture. Instead, it could lead to new problems such as working overtime without reporting, a widening gap between the system and reality, and a sudden decrease in income caused by cuts in overtime pay. Working from home in the pandemic also seems to present new challenges, as people no longer have to worry about the "last train" and work endlessly over time.

With new legal regulations already in place, it will be important to take action in the workplace. A study found that voluntary overtime working by workplace leaders had a negative impact on subordinates' work-life balance satisfaction[16]. Unless overtime is necessary, supervisors may need to take the lead in returning home on time, which is an effective way to create an atmosphere that reduces over time in the entire workplace. With the diversification of work styles, such as telework and side jobs, and the increasing number of people working with distance, communication between supervisors and subordinates, as well as between team members, has become more necessary than ever before. For example, sharing openly individual schedules, documents, and customer information may help increase transparency in a team, which could make it easier for members to support each other. Also, regular opportunities for general review (not evaluation) of an individual's work may be helpful, especially for younger members who tend to feel uncomfortable revealing their concerns about their workloads. 

4.1.3 Balancing childbirth/childcare and career

In building one's career, there were several concerns expressed about how to balance one's career with childbirth and childcare. Participant C, who is currently looking for a job, felt that few workplaces realistically considered balancing childbirth and childcare with her career, and thought that to return to work after childbirth, she would have to find a job that had a better childcare leave system. Participant J heard about the difficulties that senior female researchers had experienced in balancing pregnancy and childbirth with their research careers. She said that this would be a problem that she would have to face sooner or later.


This view of young people is reflected from the problems facing the current working generation. For example, according to the Cabinet Office's Gender Equality Bureau, among 2.31 million women who want to work, the most common reason for “currently not seeking employment” is for childbirth and childcare, indicating that childbirth and childcare have a significant impact on women's careers. Furthermore, when their youngest child is in preschool nearly 10% of women want to work as a full-time employee, and 40 to 50% after junior high school. In reality, however, less than 20% of women are working full-time even when their youngest child is in junior high school or later. While the percentage of full-time working mother rises at the nursery and kindergarten stages, it drops to the same level as at the preschool stage along with an increase in the number of women who work shorter hours as non-full-time employees[17]. The results suggest that it does not become easier to balance childcare and work along with children’s age.


According to OECD's international comparative data[18], Japanese men spend 41 minutes of unpaid work per day, while Japanese women spend 224 minutes of unpaid work per day. In other words, women spend five times as much time as men in unpaid work. However, it is reported that Japanese men's daily paid work hours (452 minutes) are the second longest among OECD countries, after Mexico. It suggests that long working hours may cause less involvement in unpaid work by Japanese men.


While there is a significant gender bias in the division of unpaid work, fewer people have started to have a stereotype of gender roles in recent years. According to the 2016 Gender Equality Bureau's "Public Opinion Survey on Gender Equality Society”,[19] for the first time, more than 50% of both men and women support the continuation of women's employment, and "agree" (40.3%) is the lowest percentage ever for the fixed division of gender roles. In other words, we can see that, although awareness of the need to share unpaid labour is growing, there is a tendency for men to work too many hours of paid work, making it practically impossible to share the unpaid work.


Establishment of childcare related systems in the workplace is progressing. According to a survey by the Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare (“MHLW”), in 2017, 93.2% of workplaces with 30 or more employees had provisions for childcare leave, compared to 95.3% in the previous year[20]. It was also reported that the number of workplaces with systems for childbirth and childcare up to age three is the largest followed by the number of workplaces with systems for up to the first year of elementary schooling. It indicates that companies are supportive of childbirth and early childcare.


However, is this change in awareness and systems reaching the young people? According to a survey of unmarried young people aged 20-34, while progress has been made in systems for men and women, the system itself is sometimes difficult to use and after all people who work long hours are valued[21]. According to the Cabinet Office's 2018 White Paper on Children and Youth, 86.2% of respondents between the ages of 16 and 29 said they "strongly agree" or "somewhat agree" that there are jobs that make it difficult to balance childcare and work, followed by 81.4% who "find it difficult to change jobs or leave the workforce when they think about family matters[22].


On the other hand, in the same survey, 70.4% of respondents said that their work is more rewarding when they get married or have children, indicating that childbirth and childcare motivate them to work[23]. By utilizing this motivation, it may be possible to design a way of balancing working and family life that is mutually beneficial, rather than work being at the expense of family life.


To this end, it will be necessary to redistribute unpaid work, which is also a factor in gender inequality. Rather than having one person bear the burden of housework and childcare in the household, it is essential to distribute it according to each other's careers and work conditions. For example, it may be effective to make unpaid work paid through using a housekeeping service and visualize how much labour is spent on housework and childcare. It would make it possible for partners to redistribute household labour among themselves in a way that reflects their working hours and wages (including unpaid work). Instead of keeping unpaid work to women, it will be meaningful for partners to communicate with each other, as in the family described in a Japanese comic "Nigeru wa haji daga yakuni tatsu (Running away is a shame, but useful)". Moreover, training in housekeeping and childcare in the family can be helpful in building habits and skills. For example, set a day at home to share household and childcare methods when you start living with your partner or when your child is in middle or high school. Consciously setting such a time would help them to acquire household and childcare skills and create the potential for them to become more proactive in such a role. Besides, redistributing unpaid labour requires a review of paid work, because if employees work too much time at work in a limited time frame, the amount of time they can use outside of work will naturally decrease. Therefore, reviewing long working hours, working more efficiently, and increasing the time available outside of work will lead to a rational redistribution of unpaid labour.

Also, we believe that it is necessary to create role models who balance work with childbirth and childcare. As we have seen, Participant C and N's concern maybe because they have seen and heard about the difficulties in reality, which makes them not sure whether it is practically possible to do so. This concern might be alleviated if there are role models around who are taking advantage of the systems that are in the workplace, or reasonably distributing unpaid work at home. While it is relevant to increase the number of such role models, it may also help young people by increasing the opportunities for direct connections between role models and young people through apps or other platforms.


4.2 Harassment

Harassment such as abuse of authority and sexual harassment was mentioned in the roundtable discussion. Participant F, who has worked in the private sector, feels that in many offices there is insufficient awareness of harassment towards new employees. Furthermore, she questioned the tendency to link the durability of harassment to individual competence.


Looking at the current state of workplace harassment in terms of numbers, Japanese Trade Union Confederation (“JTUC”)'s survey in 2019 reported that 38% of all respondents had experienced harassment[24]. In addition, according to a survey in 2016 by MHLW, 32.5% of employees responded that they had been subjected to abuse of authority in the past three years (compared to 25.3% in 2012)[25]. Furthermore, consultations related to "bullying/harassment" at the General Labour Consultation Centre at prefectural labour bureaus topped the list of consultations in 2012 and are continuing to increase[26].


While the number of consultations regarding harassment is on the rise, measures to address harassment in the workplace in Japan are being established. A new law was enacted in May 2019, obliging companies to take measures against abuse of authority in the workplace at large companies from June 2020. Under this law, the definition of abuse of authority has been redefined. However, a proviso was added: "From an objective standpoint, appropriate work instructions and guidance that are necessary and reasonable do not fall under the category of abuse of work in the workplace [27]." It is important to keep in mind that harassment itself depends largely on how the victim feels (e.g., even if the same words are said by the same person, each person feels differently), there is a possibility that the harassment damage may be underestimated..


The key to combating harassment is not only to develop laws, but also to change workers' attitudes toward harassment. According to a survey by JTUC, 44% of those who were harassed did not talk to anyone about it. The most common reason for not talking to anyone was that they thought it would be useless to talk about it (67.3%), followed by "I thought talking to anyone would make me feel uncomfortable again" (20.6%) and "I didn't know who to talk to" (17.0%)[28]. This suggests that few people believe that talking about harassment is an effective way to get help, and that there are few colleagues to be able to talk to in workplaces. This suggests a lack of understanding of harassment in the workplace among workers themselves.


Harassment is also affecting young people who leave the workforce or find a job. According to a survey by JTUC, 27.3% of those in their 20s chose to leave their jobs as a result of harassment, and women in their 20s showed a higher figure than any other generation with 33.3%[29]. This result suggests that harassment is one of the reasons why young people leave the workforce. In the same survey, 21% of men in their 20s and 12.5% of women in their 20s said they had experienced sexual harassment during their job searching, which had the effect of making them less motivated to look for a job and more afraid of meeting other people[30]. The most common type of harassment was "sexual jokes or teasing" (39.8%), followed by "asking questions about sexual facts (e.g., sexual experiences)" (23.9%) and "persistent invitations to dinner or a date" (20.5%). This indicates that sexual topics are often brought up during employment interviews and alumni visits.[31].


Meanwhile, as an international perspective, “the Resolution concerning the elimination of violence and harassment in the world of work[32]” was adopted by the ILO General Assembly in 2019 with overwhelming support. The resolution includes interns, job seekers and volunteers in the scope of protection, as well as a wide range of locations, including not only the workplace, but also commuting to and from work, email, internal social networking sites and employee dormitories. Since such a broad concept of harassment includes not only harassment during job hunting, but also new types of harassment called "remote-harassment” or “tele-harassment" that have emerged as a result of the increase in teleworking, referring to the resolution would help enhance measures against harassment in Japan.


With a rapid expansion of the "workplace" due to the pandemic, and new types of harassment, what measures are possible? Companies may cooperate with a third-party organization to create a work environment in which it is easy to talk about harassment. Many people who have been harassed are not currently able to talk about it at their workplaces, while the number of consultations to prefectural labour bureaus continues to increase. It suggests that there is a need for a consultation organization in the workplace that guarantees the content of the conversation confidential. Besides, such a third-party organization is not necessary only in larger companies, but also in smaller companies with smaller internal communities. Also, creating an environment in which a third party's opinion can be consulted may help promote mutual understanding between young workers and managers, as a wide generational gap in perceptions of harassment often exists (what younger employees perceive as harassment is often considered "better than what I have been done" by managers).


[1] Ibid, p.13

[2] National Institute of Population and Social Security Research (2018) "Projected Future Population of Japan by Region (2018)" p.8

[3]Ibid. p. 7.

[4] Statistics Bureau of the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications (2019), "Basic Resident Register Population Mobility Report 2019 (2019) Results," p.2

[5] Daiwa Institute of Research (2018), "Population outflow and regional development associated with university enrolment: Is curbing university capacity growth in Tokyo's 23 wards the trump card to stop population outflow?" 20180104_012631.pdf

[6] Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism (2019), "The Current State of the Concentration of Corporations in Tokyo", p.3

[7]Japan Institute for Labour Policy and Training (JILPT) (2019) 'Databook International Labour Comparison 2019', p.247

Ibid (2015) 'Databook International Labour Comparison 2015', p.202

[8]MHLW, "Special Site for Work Style Support"

[9] Cabinet Office (2014), 'Gender Equality Bureau, Survey of Individuals and Companies on Work-Life Balance', p.10

[10] Kuroda, Yamamoto (2014) 'Employee mental health and working hours: an examination using employee panel data'

[11] Labour Policy Research and Training Institute (2019), "Survey Series No. 191, 'Job Turnover and Career Development of Young People after Job Turnover II (Second Survey on Skills Development and Workplace Retention of Young People),'" p. 104

[12] Ibid. p.117

[13] Parsol Process Technology (2017) "Conducted a survey of young people's ideal work style, 80% of young people's ideal boss is the type who works zero overtime and delivers results

[14] Recruit Management Solutions (2017), "Survey Report on Long Working Hours: Actual Conditions and Attitudes of Regular Employees in Their 20s to 30s on Average Monthly Working Hours

[15] Partner Agent (2017) "About 70% of people who have experienced the loss of a relationship or marriage due to long hours of overtime! Those who "gave up dating and concentrated on work" (15.5%) and "changed jobs" (9.2%)

[16] Watanabe, Yamauchi (2017) "The impact of long working hours of workplace leaders on subordinates' work-life balance satisfaction: an examination of nursing professionals working in hospitals


[17] Gender Equality Bureau (2020), White Paper for Gender Equality 2020,

[18] OECD Employment : Time spent in paid and unpaid work, by sex

[19] Department for Gender Equality (2016), Co-Equalities, December 2016, p.3

[20]MHLW (2018), "2017 Basic Survey on Equal Employment," p. 14

[21] Nissay Research Institute, "Young People Today and Ten Years from Now: How They Work - The Gap Between the Ideal and Reality of Worker Reform and Expectations for the After-Corona" (Japanese only)

[22] Cabinet Office, "White Paper on Children and Young People, 2018

[23] Cabinet Office, "White Paper on Children and Young People, 2018

[24]Japan Federation of Trade Unions (2019) "Survey on Harassment in the World of Work 2019"

[25]MHLW (2017) "Survey on Power Harassment in the Workplace"

[26]MHLW's "Akarui Workplace Cheering Group" portal site for prevention and resolution of workplace bullying and harassment issues.

[27] Translation by the author. MHLW (2020), "Guidelines on Harassment in the Workplace"

[28] Japan Federation of Trade Unions (2019) 'Survey on Harassment in the World of Work 2019', p.5

[29] Ibid, p. 7.

[30] Ibid, p. 8-12.

[31] Ibid, p. 9.

[32]ILO Office in Japan "Violence and Harassment Convention of 2019 (No. 190)"


Next article is about simultaneous recruiting of new graduates, stereotypes in career development and lifelong learning ↓