Professor of Sociology
Flextime was first introduced in Germany in the late 1960s, and spread to Britain in the 1970s, although mainly in the public sector. Originally, it was intended to ease travel to and from work, and it was claimed that it had a significant impact on relieving traffic congestion (IDS, 1991). In Japan, Lufthansa Japan and Tamura Manufacturing Co. introduced flextime in 1973 (JOA, 1989: 13).
This paper deals with the rapid introduction of flextime(1), the emergence of 'super-flextime' in particular in large Japanese firms during the last few years and explores its practical implications for personnel management in future. Partially stimulated by the recent reform of Labour Standards Law on working time (i.e., the clarification of conditions for applying flextime working), it has been implemented very rapidly by large companies. Close attention has been given to flextime by both employers and unions as well as the employees in general.
According to a survey by the Japan Productivity Centre (JPC, 1992), only 9.3 per cent of the firms polled had implemented flextime before 1987 but 38.1 per cent had introduced it by 1990. Another one, Survey of Wage and Working Time Systems (MoL, 1991) in December 1990, showed that only 2.2 per cent of all firms and 33.8 per cent of firms with 5,000 or more employees had introduced flextime in any or all sections of their undertakings; and that 4.8 per cent of the total employees of all firms and 9.5 per cent of employees in the large firms worked flextime. Thus flextime is a new practice.
A further aspect of the rapid introduction of flextime merits attention. Compared with other measures of flexible working such as the satellite office, remote working or home working for example, flextime is deemed not only by management but also by middle-aged, male employees(2) to be far more suitable to implement, as is also clearly shown by recent surveys (Table 1).
1. Profile of Flextime
First, mainly based on two representative surveys(3) (JOA, 1989; JPC, 1992), the general picture of present flextime in Japan may be drawn as follows; first, as for the intention to introduce flextime, the firms polled pointed out in multiple answers such reasons as 'improving morale through higher esteem for employees' spontaneity' (83.5 per cent in 1992; 64.8 per cent in 1989), 'rationalization of working time' (80.9; 87.5), 'more efficient work by enhancing consciousness of working hours' (79.4; 66.7), 'improving mental and physical conditions through more flexible working' (70.6; 29.2), 'stimulating flexible and creative thinking' (61.3; 47.9), 'shortening overtime' (48.5; 60.4) and so on. Clearly, management was aiming for at least two birds with one stone; that is, improving efficiency and productivity on the one hand, and encouraging employees' spontaneity and discretion on the other.
Secondly, flextime was not necessarily introduced into every section of the organization. The JPC survey found that, among the firms implementing flextime, 87.1 per cent did so in their R&D section, 58.8 per cent in their information processing section, 56.7 per cent in the design section, 51.0 in planning, administrative and advertising. By contrast, only 6.2 per cent had introduced it in their production sections. Only 5.7 per cent of the firms reported all employees are under flextime.
Thirdly, in most cases the flextime has a 'core time' during which every member of the same section or working group has to be present. The core time is generally set from 10:00am to 3:00pm every weekday, albeit the length of core time has been shortened more or less to the previous survey (JOA, 1989).
Fourthly, as to how much the flextime system is virtually used by the relevant employee, JPC (1992) indicates that 35.0 per cent of the firms introducing flextime replied 'it is used very much', while 55.9 per cent answered 'to a certain extent', and 9.1 per cent 'not necessarily so much'.
Fifthly, as for the problems envisaged before implementation, such anxieties as a) 'less communication with outside customers', b) 'more complicated procedures of time administration', c) 'greater burden on middle management and supervisors', d) 'communication gaps among group members, ill functioning of teamworking', e) 'trouble concerning formal meetings', f) 'discontent from the employees of section which have not introduced flextime' and so on. Problems remained such as b) and f) above, but others were deemed by firms as not so serious (JPC, 1992: 32-3).
Sixthly, regarding the effectiveness of implementing flextime, 23.2 per cent of the firms said that flextime was 'very effective', 67.0 per cent replied 'fairly effective', 4.1 per cent 'not so effective', and none answered 'not effective at all'. Positive judgments were given to such goals as 'improving morale through higher esteem for employees' spontaneity', 'rationalization of working time', 'improving mental and physical conditions through more flexible working' and 'more efficient work by enhancing consciousness of working hour', although the aim of 'shortening overtime' was not fully realized.
Seventhly as for plans to newly introduce flextime, among the firms which had not implementing it, 23.3 per cent were 'presently considering introduction in near future', and 37.5 per cent 'have the will to consider future introduction', whereas only 7.9 per cent had 'no intention to implement flextime in the foreseeable future'. Therefore, it is expected that the flextime will be permeated in large Japanese firms in near future.
2. 'Super-flextime' and its Implications
As mentioned above, flextime is basically a multi-purpose practice. It appears to have promoted the spontaneity and discretion of employees especially engaged in intellectual jobs such as in R&D and design sections in terms of working practices. This discretionary feature of work has evolved in parallel with more conscious rationalization of time spending as well as the exclusion of peripheral, unnecessary jobs, and shortening of overtime to a certain extent.
However, there have been important unanticipated consequences of implementing flextime. Based on their experiments, a number of firms have clearly realized that the quality or creativity of intellectual jobs - apparently different from manual work - do not necessarily correspond to the amount of time spent at them, although this was understood in general terms previously. This realization in turn points to a significant new development in personnel management. This may be illustrated by a concrete example(4).
Toppan Printing Corporation with nearly 13,000 employees, one of the leading in Japanese printing companies today(5), introduced flextime into the sales section in 1986 after a joint six-month study with their trade union. One of the major objectives was to shorten overtime and to rationalize the time administration in that section. Initially, the system had a 'core time' of five hours a day, and partially because of this, the goals of introduction were not attained. Based on this experience and after careful consideration, the relevant parties including the enterprise union leaders reached the critical conclusion to introduce a entirely new flextime system without core time - 'super-flextime' - from August 1990 after a trial period of six months.
At present, the number of employees under this super-flextime amounts to 640; 237 in the general planning and sales promotion sections, and 403 in R&D and information systems, excluding the line managers in these sections. According to Mr. Kuromitsu, the personnel manager, employees under super-flextime are required to attend at least one hour a day, and to work 160 hours per month (i.e., multiplication of an eight-hour-day by a twenty-day-month) without direct and close time supervison, with neither overtime nor early attendance by definition. They can work only five hours on a certain day, for example, and eleven hours the next day according to their own discretion and with some coordination with colleagues or customers. Second, the new time administration became as follows; every employee under super-flextime has to submit his/her own 'next month work schedule' by the 20th of every month, describing the days of planned attendance as well as the holidays to be taken in some detail to the manager. It must be filed and maintained in a place capable of being easily checked and revised. Moreover, if it is envisaged beforehand that in the next month, the amount of work will be much to be done within the ordinary hours of super-flextime, everyone can be free from super-flextime and work under the 'traditional' pattern with overtime payment. This implies that the primary intention of the firm is not to cut wage costs through saving on overtime payment. Thirdly, instead, Toppan Printing has introduced a new allowance in order to virtually compensate de facto overtime working by paying additional 35 per cent of the total basic monthly salary, housing allowance and managerial or researcher allowance provided that anyone working under super-flextime attended the basic monthly working days; i.e., twenty days per month including annual paid holidays.
Fourthly, regarding personnel appraisals, the company has introduced a new incentive system. To those who are in the general planning and sales promotion sections, employee achievement is appraised by line managers and classified into three categories every three months. 'A' rank brings an additional payment of 25 per cent, 'B' rank by 15 per cent, and 'C' rank by only 5 per cent of the basic monthly salary plus housing and managerial allowances. For an employee ranked as 'A' throughout the year, the incentive bonus amounts to one month's income. Differences from employees in the R&D and information system sections are two-hold. One is the interval of evaluation - in the latter, employees are appraised every six months. Second, in the later case 'A' means an additional 50 per cent in October or April, 'B' means 30 per cent, and 'C' 10 per cent respectively. The proportion of each category is around about one third.
Fifthly, in the early period of super-flextime introduction, some line managers complained that time administration was obstructed, while employees from another sections without super-flextime also voiced dissatisfaction. At present, however, no serious trouble is reported.
Sixthly, Table 2 indicates the overall effectiveness of super-flextime. According to a questionnaire survey on employees working under the super-flextime conducted by management just six months after the implementation, most employees as well as managers acknowledged the value of super-flextime in the sense of only a few respondents answering negatively. However, nearly one third of managers felt there were problems which needed to be resolved, although the contents were not specified. Super-flextime has implications for personnel management.
One basic feature of administration of industrial labour is symbolically expressed in the phrase 'time is money' ; wages are paid according to the number of working hours, and the amount of production relies on those of working hours. This has been expressed by the 'hourly rate' of payment for blue-collar workers. As far as the intellectual work is concerned, as in the case of R&D, design and planning jobs, performance cannot be evaluated by the number of hours actually worked. Working hours do not guarantee the quality of output. In fact, less qualified employees may have to work longer than the talented, and due to longer working hours, the former may be paid more. This raises fundamental question for personnel administration. To what extent this new perception of personel management may bring about the crucial transformations in practice, nobody knows at present. Mr Kuromitsu should perhaps be given the last word. The corporate organization he envisages - with those working under super-flextime in mind - is 'a collective of entrepreneurized "gold-collar" employees'.
1. Recently, flextime has been implemented in offices of large firms, particularly R&D and design, general administration and planning. The rapid increase has been stimulated partially by a series of recent legislative reforms to shorten working hours. However, in many cases it is accompanied by a core time - 10:00am to 3:00pm, for example - which has hindered the shortening of working hours. 'Super-flextime' is a device to avoid this shortcoming and to promote shorter working hours.
2. Major objectives in introducing flextime are multiple; 'improving morale through higher esteem for employees' spontaneity', 'rationalization of working time', 'more efficient work by enhancing consciousness of working hours', 'improving mental and physical conditions through more flexible working', 'stimulating flexible and creative thinking', 'shortening working hours' and so forth. As implied by these objectives, flextime is beneficial not only for management but also for employees in the sense that it may enhance the quality of working life of employees. As for attaining these goals, according to the results of recent questionnaire surveys, flextime appears to be effective in achieving some of the above objectives, and it is exected that flextime will be implemented in more firms in the near future. It appears that many employees are generally in favour of flextime and favour introduction with some caution even at present (cf., note 2).
3. Super-flextime has no core time. In several case studies, employees have been required to submit the following month's schedule in advance, to attend every day at least one hour, to work 160 hours per month and to attain the 'negotiated' or 'contracted' goals successfully. In these respects, their working ways have become much closer to those of self-employed entrepreneurs. It might be possible to infer from this a future organizational image of 'a collective of entrepreneurized employees'. This will mean a 'farewell to the administration of industrial labour'; in other words, in a certain jobs, it is no longer appropriate to pay money in terms of employee working hours. Instead, the new criterion to evaluate each employee is the work performed or achieved in itself, which is not be a simple function of working hours.
It is an open question to what extent basic changes in perception of personnel evaluation and related organizational features will bring about a real transformations in experience of work.
(1) The term flextime here refers to a system by which full-time employees may choose voluntarily the beginning and ending time of everyday work, which is very often encompasses a core time of several hours, provided that he/she works a certain amount of monthly hours. As for the unit of time, for example, Amira Galin states that it is 'usually a day, a week or a month, and less frequently a longer period of up to a year' (Galin, 1991: 9). The definition used here is rather narrow in terms of the unit of time, and its application to full-time regular employees.
(2) According to the Survey on Urban Commuting and Its Effects on Employees Living and Working Conditions conducted in November 1990 (Inagami et al., 1991), whose sample of 867 was mostly middle-aged, male, higher status white-collar employees (nearly seventy per cent of them were middle managers) working in large firms located in Central Tokyo, 18.2% had already worked flextime, 18.2% responded that 'it is possible to introduce it from now', 47.8% that 'it is possible to introduce with a little of devices', 19.7% that 'it is impossible to introduce in future'. As to the possibility of reducing 'the frequency of meeting and meeting time', their response were largely in favour.
(3) Both of the surveys (JOA, 1989; JPC, 1992) were entrusted by the Ministry of Labour. The firms polled were similarly the large firms most of which were listed on the Tokyo Stock Exchange.
(4) From the interview with Mr Y. Kuromitsu, personnel manager of Toppan Printing Corporation, on the 31st January 1992 by the study group of urban commuting mentioned above.
(5) In general, working hours in the printing industry - most printing firms are small and medium-sized - are fairly longer than the average in all industries and therefore the issue of working hour reduction is a serious one. In a sense, the 'backwardness' of the industry and the seriousness of management to resolve this problem might have resulted in the noteworthy innovation of 'super-flextime'.
Galin, Amira, 1991, 'Flexible Work Patterns - Why, How, When and Where?', Bulletin of Comparative Labour Relations, no.22, pp.2-17.
Incomes Data Services (IDS), 1991, 'Flextime', IDS Study, no.477 (March 1991).
Inagami, T. et al., 1991, Survey on Urban Commuting and Its Effects on Employees' Living and Working Conditions (in Japanese), Ministry of Labour.
Japan Occupational Association (JOA), 1989, Research Report on Varied Working Patterns: Flextime, Remote Working and Satellite Office (in Japanese), JOA.
Japan Productivity Centre (JPC), 1992, Report on Flextime Working System (in Japanese), JPC.
Ministry of Labour (MoL), 1991, Survey on Wage and Working Time Systems (in Japanese), MoL.
Ministry of Labour (MoL), 1992, The Third 1991 Monitoring Survey on Industrial and Labour Conditions (in Japanese), Monthly Labour Statistics and Research Bulletin, vol.44 no.3 (March 1992), pp.26-38.
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