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The Issues of Childhood and Parenthood in Modern Japan - 7. Creating a Parenting-Friendly Society: Corporate Efforts

On the front page of the Nihon Keizai Shimbun of October 8th 2004, I saw an article entitled "76% felt a sense of crisis regarding the declining birth rate (and its impact on the future of Japan)".

This figure is based on the recent Public Opinion Survey conducted by the Cabinet Office of Japan, regarding strategies to tackle the declining birth rate. As for the anticipated impacts of the declining birth rate, respondents showed the largest concern for the social security system (e.g., public pension system) (71.9%) followed by national economic strength (50.8%) and the impact on family life (e.g., childcare burden) (33.1%).[1] Then in response to a question on the preferred national strategies to cope with the declining birth rate, the answer "revising current work patterns to balance work and family life (51.1%)" topped the list, followed by lightening the financial burden of childrearing (50.5%), and preparing safe and secure environments for childcare/rearing(41.7%).

Looking at the survey results, I see many issues that Japan currently faces, for instance, concern about money for retirement but also the cost for childcare/rearing. Also, although multiple answers were allowed for preferred national strategies, only 51% chose 'revising work patterns' as a solution. In other words, almost half did not consider it to be a solution to a declining birthrate for whatever reason.

Apart from its appropriateness as a strategy to tackle the declining birth rate, however, I believe that balancing work and family life is absolutely essential to achieve in its own right.

Updates on corporate efforts
With national government recognition of the importance of revising current work patterns and systems to tackle the declining birth rate, companies with over 300 employees must now formulate action plans to become more parenting-friendly by the end of March 2005 prior to the enactment of the Law for Measures to Support the Next-Generation (hereinafter the Next Generation Law) in April 2005.[2]

To guide the planning procedure, the Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare (hereinafter, the MHLW) as well as municipalities and various organizations have been releasing a series of documents and arranging seminars for companies. For instance, the MHLW held a symposium on "Considering modalities of companies in the age of declining fertility rate" in October 2004, during which the Family-Friendly Companies of 2004 received awards.

In the following, I summarize the recommended content of the action plan required by the Next Generation Law. Next, I introduce the case of NEC as an example of a family-friendly company in and out of the workplace.

Recommended content for the action plan required by the Next Generation Law
The content of the action plan is, for the most part, left to each company. Still, the government has recommended considering the following three categories and provided some examples accordingly.

1) Creating a working environment where people can reconcile work and childcare/rearing
Target: Employees who are involved in childcare
e.g.
Providing on-site daycare centers or in close proximity.
Encouraging fathers to take paternity leave at the time of childbirth.
Offering financial support for childcare services.

2 ) Developing various flexible working conditions by reviewing current work patterns.
Target: All employees, including those who are not involved in childcare.
e.g.
Introducing no-overtime workdays and increasing awareness to minimize overtime work.
Encouraging use of annual paid vacation days.
Introducing work-sharing schemes and/or teleworking.

3) Supporting community-based childcare/rearing activities.
Target: Employees as well as the community.
e.g.
Implementing 'Children's Visiting Day' or 'Take our Children to Work Day' to allow employees' children to learn about their parents' work.
Offering internships and/or trial employment opportunities to young people to encourage independence and stable employment.
Promoting so-called "childcare/rearing barrier free" facilities (e.g., making both men and women's public bathrooms childcare-user-friendly) in accordance with the company's service or policy.


A Case Study: An Example of NEC Corporation
NEC Corporation Profile:
Headquarter: Minato ward of Tokyo Metropolis
Industry: IT/Network Solutions and Semiconductor Solutions Businesses
Number of Total Employees: 35,000

NEC is a winner of 2001 Health, Labour and Welfare Minister's Finest Award for a Family Friendly Company as well as 2003 No.1 worker-friendly company as designated by Nikkei Sangyo Shimbun. Furthermore, NEC has introduced a fringe benefit that pays a childbirth money gift of 550,000 - 600,000 yen since July 2004, while reducing the amount of dependent spouse allowance in stages instead. The efforts by NEC go beyond the scope of their workplace, as the company takes Corporate Social Responsibility (hereinafter, CSR) seriously, and assumes a proactive role as a good community member.[3] In the following, I first summarize the rationale behind NEC's recognition as Family-Friendly Company. Next, I introduce one of the NEC's CSR activities; that is, an IT class targeting fulltime mothers of young children in collaboration with the community NPOs.

What is the Family-Friendly Company Award?
As a part of earlier efforts to deal with the declining birth rate and an aging society, MHLW as well as municipalities have granted the Family-Friendly Company Award since 1999. Companies that received the most prestigious awards from the MHLW are as follows: Benesse Coporation (1999), Seiko Epson Corporation (2000), NEC Corporation (2001), Fuji-Xerox Corporation (2002), Mazda Motor Corporation (2003), and Kao Corporation (2004).

To be considered a Family-Friendly Company, a company must meet certain criteria. Unlike the Action Plan for the Next Generation Law, the criteria for Family-Friendly Companies are more rigid and limited to work practices within the company. Another major difference is that Family-friendly Companies must consider the welfare of all family members of the employees, including elderly care. In the following table, I summarize the criteria for Family-Friendly Awards and corresponding work practice/policy examples at NEC.


Criteria for Family-Friendly Company NEC Systems/Practices
1 Child care and family care leave programs which exceed standards stipulated by the Law, and are in actual practice.* Extended childcare leave until the March after the child celebrates his/her first birthday.** Also, extended family care leave up to one year per case.
2 Programs that promote flexible working patterns, enabling the balancing of work and family life, and are in actual practice. Shorter working hours until a child enters elementary school or until the reason for family care is resolved.
3 Other programs that enable the balancing of work and family life, and are in actual use. Work-at-home program for employees with childcare or family care needs or who must care for sick family members.
Childcare coupon system (i.e., the discount ticket for babysitter service) until the child reaches third grade in elementary school.
4 A corporate /office culture that encourages the balancing of work and family life. User manuals for available programs and policies, and access to this information via the intranet to encourage the use of these systems.

According to the official document of the MHLW, "many people at NEC, including men and those in managerial positions, have actually taken advantage of these programs, all of which contributes to creating a corporate culture which encourages the balancing work and family life."***
* Under the Child Care and Family Care Leave Law, up to one year of childcare leave can be taken per child, and up to three months of family care leave per case. Also, men can take at least 8 weeks of childcare leave, even if their wives are full-time mothers or taking childcare leave. Additionally, under the Labour Standards Law, women are granted a pregnancy leave 6 weeks prior to the expected delivery date and until 8 weeks after the birth of a child.
** In Japan, the school year begins in April.
*** For instance, the total number of people who took childcare leave between 1990-2002 was 2,321, of which 13 were men, and 16 (one man and 15 women) were people in managerial positions.

NEC and CSR: IT classes for mothers with young children in the community
Since 2003, NEC has started an IT class targeting full-time mothers with young children in the community. Taking advantage of NEC's business, the IT class is offered to the mothers in collaboration with childcare support groups in the community and provides childcare service during the class. The class aims to encourage mothers to learn basic yet updated IT skills, thereby enabling them to be ready to return to the workforce, should they wish.

Such an attempt has created a win-win situation for everyone. According to an involved NGO representative, the IT class has been an opportunity for mothers to learn the new skills, but it has also increased their self-esteem.[4] As for NEC, not only does the company receive recognition as socially responsible company, but also serves as a great promotion and advertising tool to reach out to potential customers.

Conclusion
Realistically speaking, it may be nothing but burdensome for some companies to implement the action plan required in the Next Generation Law. Hopefully, however, an example of NEC's community project has provided insights for developing strategies that can cater to the needs of companies as well as parents and children in the community.

It does not suggest, however, that reviewing corporate work patterns is unnecessary or can easily be dismissed as a task. To the contrary, companies should carefully look into their own work practiceas as a number of issues are frequently neglected; women in need for infertility treatment but situated in an unsupportive work environment, unwanted/unexpected change in job assignment upon return from the childcare leave, a promotion system which tends to favor those who work longer hours, to name a few.

In my view, though an increasing number of people support the idea of balancing work and family, many seem to have the attitude of "but not in my company/department /section" when the matter comes down to them. Thus, I truly hope everyone, those in managerial positions, in particular, will personalize or internalize the issue by first reviewing his or her own involvement at home. This may be the start of achieving a society where we can reconcile work and family commitments with pride.

[1] Multiple answers were allowed for the questions on anticipated impacts as well as the preferred national strategies.
[2] Companies with 300 or fewer employees have also obligation to make efforts.
[3] NEC received some other distinctive awards as well, including 2002 Grand Award for Corporate Social Contribution from Asahi Shimbun Foundation in February 2002, and Official Commendation of Volunteerism from the MHLW in September 2001.
[4] A representative of NPO Niiza Kosodate Network (Network for childcare in Niiza) was a panelist at aforementioned symposium of October 2004 by the MHLW on Modalities of companies in the age of declining birth rate.


References

In English

CSR achieves
http://www.csrjapan.jp/index_e.html

Japan Institute for Workers' Evolution
http://www.jiwe.or.jp/english/evolusion/index.html

Ministry of Health, Labour, and Welfare
http://www.mhlw.go.jp/english/index.html

National Institution of Population and Social Security Research
http://www.ipss.go.jp/index-e.html

Specific Documents

Cabinet Office, Government of Japan (2003). Annual Report on the Japanese Economy and Public Finance 2002-2003: No Gains Without Reforms III. Cabinet Office, Government of Japan. Retrieved August 5th 2004 from the World Wide Web:
http://www5.cao.go.jp/zenbun/wp-e/wp-je03/03-00301.html

Child Care and Family Care Leave Law- Japan. In International Labour Organization. Retrieved November 5th 2004 from the World Wide Web:
http://www.ilo.org/public/english/employment/gems/eeo/law/japan/care.htm

Chitose, Yoshimi (2003)."Chapter 2: Policies Targeted to Families with Children: Policy Responses to Declining Fertility." In National Institute of Population and Social Security Research (ed.), Child Related Policies in Japan. National Institute of Population and Social Security Research. Retrieved March 8th, 2004 from the World Wide Web:
http://www.ipss.go.jp/s-info/e/childPJ2003/childPJ2003.pdf

Doteuchi, Akio (2004). Toward a Prosperous Society with a Declining Birthrate - Enhancing the Social Environment for Childcare Support. NLI Research Institute. Retrieved August 5th, 2004 from the World Wide Web:
http://www.nli-research.co.jp/eng/resea/life/li040421.pdf

Labour Standards Law. In The Japan Institute for Labour Policy and Training. Retrieved December 8th, 2004 from the World Wide Web:
http://www.jil.go.jp/english/laborinfo/library/documents/llj_law1.pdf

Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare. Law Concerning the Welfare of Workers Who Take Care of Children or Other Family Members Including Child Care and Family Care Leave (Law No. 76 of 1991). Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare. Retrieved November 5th 2004 from the World Wide Web:
http://www.mhlw.go.jp/general/seido/koyou/ryouritu/english/e1.html

Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare. Enforcement Regulations for the Law Concerning the Welfare of Workers Who Take Care of Children or Other Family Members, Including Child Care and Family Care Leave. (Ministry of Labour Ordinance No. 25 of Oct. 15, 1991). Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare. Retrieved November 5th, 2004 from the World Wide Web:
http://www.mhlw.go.jp/general/seido/koyou/ryouritu/english/e2.html

Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare. Guidelines Concerning Measures to Be Taken by Employers to Facilitate the Coexistence of the Working Lives and Family Lives of Workers Who Take Care of or Are Going to Take Care of Children or Other Family Members. (Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare Notice, 2002). Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare. Retrieved November 5th, 2004 from the World Wide Web:
http://www.mhlw.go.jp/general/seido/koyou/ryouritu/english/e3.html

The websites of companies that received the finest Family-Friendly Company Awards

Benesse Corporation (1999)
http://www.benesse.co.jp/english/index.html

Seiko-Epson Corporation (2000)
http://www.epson.co.jp/e/index.htm

NEC Corporation (2001)
http://www.nec.co.jp/profile/en/

Fuji Xerox Corporation (2002)
http://www.fujixerox.co.jp/eng/

Mazda Motor Corporation (2003)
http://www.mazda.com/

Kao Corporation (2004)
http://www.kao.co.jp/e/

In Japanese only

Family-Friendly Site
http://www.familyfriendly.jp/

Jisedai Ikusei Net [Network for the supporting the next generation]
http://www.jisedaiikusei.net/

Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare, Shoushika taisaku[tackling the declining birth rate].
http://www.mhlw.go.jp/topics/bukyoku/seisaku/syousika/index.html
This home page has links to various official documents related to the declining birth rate.

Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare, Jisedai ikusei shien hou ni motozuku ippan jigyonushi koudoukeikaku ni tsuite [Regarding the action plans by the companies in accordance with the Law for Next Generation].
http://www.mhlw.go.jp/general/seido/koyou/jisedai/
This page has links related to development of Action Plans for the Next Generation Law.

Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare. Shokugyou seikatsu to katei seikatsu no ryouritsu no tameni [To balance work and family life].
The page contains a number of links related to the topic of balancing work and family life
http://www.mhlw.go.jp/general/seido/koyou/ryouritu/index.html

Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare. Family-Friendly Kigyou towa [What is Family-Friendly Company?]
http://www.mhlw.go.jp/general/seido/koyou/jisedai/manual/10.html
Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare. Family-Friendly Kigyou [Family-Friendly Companies]
http://www.mhlw.go.jp/general/seido/koyou/family/

NEC links related to IT classes for mothers
http://www.nec.co.jp/community/ja/welfare/itmama.html
http://www.nec.co.jp/community/v-world/itmama/index.html

NPO Niiza Kosodate Network [Network for childcare in Niiza]
http://homepage2.nifty.com/niiza_net/welcome.html

Specific Document

Cabinet Office, Government of Japan (2004). Shoushika taisaku ni kansuru tokubetsu yoron chousa [Special Public Opinion Survey on Strategies to tackle the Declining Birth Rate]. Public Relations, Cabinet Office, Government of Japan. Retrieved on November 5th 2004 from the World Wide Web:
http://www8.cao.go.jp/survey/tokubetu/h16-syousika.pdf

CSR Archives (2004). An Article on NEC philanthropy. Retrieved on Nov. 5th, 2004 from the World Wide Web:
http://www.csrjapan.jp/casestudy/22_01.html

Jisedai Ikusei Shien Taisaku Suishin Hou [The Law for Measures to Support the Next-Generation]. Retrieved on September 7th, 2004:from the World Wide Web:
http://www.mhlw.go.jp/topics/bukyoku/seisaku/syousika/030819/dl/5.pdf

Jisedai Ikusei Shien Taisaku Suishin Hou: Koudou keikaku sakutei shishin (2003) [The guiding principles for the development of the action plan]. Retrieved on September 7th, 2004:from the World Wide Web:
http://www.mhlw.go.jp/topics/bukyoku/seisaku/syousika/030819/dl/2.pdf

Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare and the Labour Bureau of Municipalities (2004). Ippan jigyounushi koudou keikaku wo sakutei shimashou [To the Companies: Let's formulate the Action Plans] Leaflet No. 20. Mnistry of Health, Labour and Welfare: Tokyo

76% ga shoushika ni kikikan [76% felt a sense of crisis regarding the declining birth rate] (2004 October 8th). Nihon Keizai Shimbun. P.1
Profile

Teruko Kagohashi
Teruko Kagohashi is a researcher in the field of education/international development. She received a dual master's degree from the Teachers College and the School of International and Public Affairs, Columbia University in New York in 2000. Ms. Kagohashi has extensive overseas studying and/or working experiences in the United States, Germany, Australia and Bolivia. She currently resides in the Tokyo area with her husband and three-year-old son.
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