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Messages from Keidanren Executives March, 2019 Work Style Reform toward a Bright Future for Japan

Naofumi NEGISHI Vice Chair of the Board of Councillors, Keidanren
Executive Advisor, SEKISUI CHEMICAL CO., LTD.

In Japan, the problems of a declining birth rate and aging population have long become apparent. If they continue and countermeasures are not taken, it is estimated that by 2050 the total population will fall below 100 million and there will be corresponding acute shortages of labor. On the other hand, there will be upheavals in the work environment due to IT, AI, robotics and other innovative technologies. Therefore, now more than ever, promotion of work style reform is urgently needed for companies to grow sustainably.

There are two components to work style reform. The first is improving labor productivity. Currently, many companies are addressing this issue, and our company has been actively investing in progressing labor productivity since last year, which was our inaugural year of promoting work style reform. In order for employees to achieve their best results in a limited amount of time, we have implemented various reforms; for example, work procedure reforms, such as plant production line improvements using electronic tags, and work environment reforms, including expansion of videoconferencing throughout our workplaces.

The second component is increasing employee job satisfaction. Job satisfaction is different for each person. However, an important factor is showing ownership; that is, engaging in one's work based on one's own ideas and with a sense of responsibility rather than waiting for instructions and being a cog in the machine. Also, amid rapidly evolving AI, this ownership may be the most important ability that is possessed by humans alone. To shake up the "follow the leader" and "nail that sticks out gets hammered down" culture seen in Japanese companies up until now, it is important to create an organization in which employees can vigorously show their ownership. For that reason, our company has committed to carry out HR system reforms that will enable us to support such employees.

In the coming age of Society 5.0, new innovative technologies are likely to be produced successively. While unskilled labor and the so-called "3K jobs" (hard, dirty and dangerous) are being increasingly taken out of people's hands, more high value-added work that previously did not exist will demand skilled human resources. Companies should continue to promote work style reforms appropriate for the changes in the times, which will then lead to continued improvements in the environment for workers. For the sake of future generations, it is our responsibility to accurately recognize what companies should do and play our part in creating a bright future for Japan.

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