Human Resources Management and Effective Function of WLB Policies: A cross-national comparison of influence on workplace productivity

Author Name MATSUBARA Mitsuyo  (The University of Tokyo)
Creation Date/NO. March 2011 11-J-031
Research Project International Comparison of Measures to Improve Work-Life Balance and Consideration of Challenges Facing Japanese Companies
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This study compares Japan and four other countries (the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, Sweden, and Germany) with regard to human resources management, focusing on companies where work-life balance (WLB) policies are believed to have had a positive effect on workplace productivity. It aims to clarify the challenges in promoting WLB policies in Japan from the viewpoint of human resources management. The study has found the following:

First, while incentive systems in the four foreign countries are evenly focused in terms of factors related to rewarding salaries and bonuses, such as an individual's ability to perform work and achievements, the nature of duties assigned to the individual, and the performance of a group or organization to which the individual belongs, the typical system adopted by Japanese companies is strongly biased towards two factors: age and an individual's achievement.

Second, personnel decisions for non-permanent workers (including temporary staff) tend to be made at a work unit level (i.e., division, section, etc) in the four foreign countries, while in Japan such decisions are usually made by the human resources department for both permanent and non-permanent workers. This concentration of power in the human resources departments at Japanese firms could hinder their ability to respond in a timely manner to changes in demand or the work environment.

Third, in highly productive workplaces in the UK and Germany, when a member of a team makes use of WLB policies (for example, taking maternity leave), the first step taken is to consider whether the total workload for the team can be reduced to a level appropriate for the remaining team members. Then and only then would a complex combination of measures be taken, such as adjusting the work hours of permanent workers within the team, transferring new members from other teams, and recruiting new workers. In contrast, Japanese companies tend to rely on adjusting the work hours of permanent workers in responding to such a situation.

Fourth, companies with a high proportion of women in managerial positions tend to value highly the role of WLB policies in improving workplace productivity. This clearly indicates that the promotion of diversity management is complementary to the realization of WLB, thus affirming the results of previous research.

Finally, in companies in which the hourly wages for non-permanent workers are mostly in line with those of permanent workers engaged in the same job, workers tend to rate their workplace productivity highly in terms of job efficiency, willingness to work, and motivation to make contributions to the company.

In conclusion, in the face of ongoing economic globalization and the advent of a decreasing working population in Japan, it is necessary to restructure human resource management systems in order to allow Japanese companies to not only maximize use of permanent workers, but also take advantage of a wide and diverse range of human resources.