Employees in Japan are struggling to strike the right work-life balance. It may seem counter-intuitive, but working too hard can actually be bad for productivity.

Taking a vacation is an important way of re-energizing, yet staff in some parts of the world are sacrificing their annual holiday entitlement in favour of spending more time at work.

The Japanese are the biggest workaholics. A poll by Ipsos Global found that just 24% are taking an annual week away from work, while a mere 35% are using up all of their vacation allowance.

This is in stark contrast to workers in European countries, who top the list of those using up all of their allotted leave days.

Achieving an effective work-life balance benefits companies as well as employees. It enables individuals to relieve stress and focus more on their job when they are at work.

Taking an annual vacation helps relieve workplace pressures
Image: REUTERS/Alessandro Bianchi

Striking the right balance

Employees in 25 countries around the world were surveyed for the recent Ipsos Global poll. The majority (65%) of respondents said they take all of their allocated vacation entitlement.

Workers in Belgium take the most time off, with 85% using all of their allotted holiday days. Spain, Germany, Great Britain and Saudi Arabia made up the list of the top five countries that maximize their vacation allowance.

The picture is slightly different when it comes to taking at least a full week’s vacation away from home once a year. A sizable 80% of employees in India do this. So too do 72% of those in Great Britain, 70% of those in China, 69% of those in South Africa, and 67% of those in Germany.

Just 46% of workers never check work emails while on holiday. Germans are the best at resisting this urge, with 68% refusing to monitor workplace correspondence.

Since 2009, the number of workers who check work messages has increased across almost all countries surveyed. The most pronounced rise has been seen in Italy, followed by Japan.

Use them or lose them: which countries agree that they use all their holiday allowance?

Image: IPSOS A Way to Get Away

The Japanese work ethic

Japanese employees are renowned for their willingness to work long hours, but this is not necessarily a healthy trait.

It may lead to stress, psychiatric issues and health problems. And it can also contribute to a lack of productivity.

Stanford economist John Pencavel has shown that working more than 60 hours a week can have a detrimental effect on output.

This is an issue the Japanese government is determined to tackle. By addressing the culture of long hours, it’s hoped that the economy will receive a much-needed boost.

Japan’s ageing population is also a concern. Encouraging Japanese workers to spend more time away from the office may well lead to more babies being born.

Workers in Japan are the most office-bound
Image: REUTERS/Kimimasa Mayama

Why work-life balance matters

The emergence of new technology and the rise of social media in recent years has made it increasingly difficult for workers to achieve a work-life balance.

Checking work messages and taking calls on holiday or at the weekend has become common practice in many countries.

As a result, workers spend less time with family and friends and this can have a negative effect on productivity during traditional working hours. It can also be very bad for the health of people who are pushing themselves to work longer hours.

However, there are ways to ensure a healthy work-life balance. These include learning how to say “no” to unreasonable workplace demands, prioritizing time to cut out pointless activities, and being prepared to ask for help.

Successful economies don’t exist without productive companies. Productive companies don’t exist without happy workers.

Image: OECD