Steven's Blog

Japan’s Generous Paternity Leave

When a new father asks for paternity leave, a manager can become defensive, even  though paternity leave as stipulated by Japanese government regulation is one of the most generous in the world, with up to a year’s leave if desired. Government regulation has achieved nothing in terms of healthy work style behaviors because regulation is not the root cause of excesses. Whether excessive overtime or forgoing paternity leave, the root cause is never because of government regulation or company policy.

The root cause is always a deficit of leadership capability.

In many companies in Japan, both Japanese and non-Japanese managers and staff alike are mostly silent when it comes to paternity leave. Silence on the part of the staff is taken by a manager as an indifference toward a leave. Silence on the part of the manager is taken by staff as disapproval. Even though most men approve of paternity leave—at least in theory—and would like to take paternity leave themselves, they hesitate because they feel their colleagues and manager will look down on them.

Regulation means very little when few men in Japan ever take advantage of their privileges.

The CEO of an American company in Japan spoke to me of a case where a manager refused to let a staff member take paternity leave because he said he could not afford the loss of staff during a busy time of work. Never mind that there is rarely a time when his section is not busy. The same manager has also refused to allow staff to participate in after-hours clubs organized in the company so people might pursue common interests and hobbies after work while getting to know their colleagues better. The manager claims that his people must be available for overtime.

This manager’s insistence on excessive work is not about an attitude towards paternity leave and overtime. It is about his ability to lead.

Capable leaders set clear objectives for staff, mentor staff when needed, and hold staff them accountable for results. Click To Tweet

A capable manager requires little or no overtime, nor constant presence in the office. People can use their time as they see fit to achieve the objectives of their work. No matter what pressure may come, the manager is in control.

Less capable managers view work only as labor, set vague objectives for staff if any at all. They do no mentoring beyond the so-called on-the-job-training if even that, and rarely hold people accountable for results—a natural consequence of having few clear objectives. Such managers have no plan, and no real control. They feel the need to hoard staff and keep staff around all the time in case something urgent comes up or some order comes down from above. When something goes wrong, it is always some hapless employee whom the manager blames. Employees have no defense other than to look busy and work all hours without respite. After all, what more can they be expected to do for the boss? Paternity leave becomes a luxury, and is out of the question.

Rules and policies only come into effect when leadership fails. If you want to achieve lasting change around work style behaviors, don’t wait for the government to act or address the problem yourself with company policy alone. With capable leadership, policy rarely needs to be invoked and regulation rarely needs to be cited.

Instead, start with improving leadership capability of all managers with staff, because that is where root cause lies.


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