For some of Japan’s lone workers, COVID-19 is bringing a comeback – fr

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For some of Japan’s lone workers, COVID-19 is bringing a comeback – fr


After four years of working and living alone, away from family and friends, Tsuyoshi Tatebayashi packed his bags at the end of March and finally returned to his wife and two daughters.

Like hundreds of thousands of other white-collar workers, the 44-year-old computer engineer had been on a solo mission, known as “tanshin funin”, and didn’t expect to return to his family any time soon.

But as the COVID-19 pandemic dragged on, his employer, Fujitsu (6702.T), decided to bring his distant workers home, becoming one of the first large Japanese companies to start ending the practice. long established.

Solo assignments have been a regular duty for white-collar workers since at least Japan’s recovery from the devastation of war, becoming a crucial stage in career progression despite being unpopular among many workers.

“If it can be helped, I don’t want to have to resume a solo mission,” Tatebayashi said from his home in Fukuoka, about 1,000 km (600 miles) from his work base near Tokyo. Tatebayashi was one of 4,000 solo workers at the IT consulting and equipment maker.

Manabu Morikawa, a personnel manager at Fujitsu, said technology has made remote working possible and ending the unpopular practice could help Fujitsu hire workers.

“There had been discussions in the past about people working away from their families, but COVID-19 provided the impetus for change,” Morikawa said.

Snack maker Calbee Inc (2229.T) is another scrapping of the practice, scrapping most solo assignments last year.

Lone workers in companies where teleworking has become a norm for all employees are also returning home. At some, including Mitsubishi Chemical Holdings (4188.T) and beverage maker Kirin Holdings (2503.T), this change may be permanent.

“There are cases where employees return to where their families are,” said Russell Roll, a spokesperson for Kirin, adding that the work-from-home measures in the event of a pandemic were limitless.

Mitsubishi Chemical’s new headquarters in Tokyo will only have enough offices for 60% of the employees assigned to it.

However, for the whole system to change, banks such as Mitsubishi UFJ Financial Group (8306.T), which need to staff large branch networks, and large manufacturers such as Toyota Motor Corp (7203.T), should end this practice. as well as.

“Transfers are a positive step from an outcome perspective by matching both the right person for the right job in the company and the employee’s career development,” said the Toyota spokesperson, Shiori Hashimoto.

Toyota is keeping solo assignments, but has also expanded working from home for all employees, she added.

A spokesperson for MUFG, who sticks to solo assignments, declined to comment when asked about their merit.

UNPOPULAR

According to Rochelle Kopp, founder of the consulting firm Japan Intercultural, companies move people every few years to train managers with extensive experience and also to ensure that supplier relationships do not encourage fraud.

“Under Japanese labor law, if you are a permanent employee, refusing a job transfer or other job assignment is tantamount to saying that you are resigning,” Kopp said. “It’s so common that people think it’s normal. “

Many lone workers are middle-aged men who transfer on their own to avoid disrupting family life.

Researchers at Ritsumeikan University, using census data and government surveys, estimate that there could be as many as 1 million workers alone.

On average, lone workers receive an allowance of 47,000 yen ($ 432) per month to cover accommodation costs and home travel, according to the Ministry of Labor.

But more than two-thirds of 3,131 people polled in a survey published by the Asahi newspaper last February described the postings as unnecessary. Only 41 people said they were happy with them as they were.

“To be promoted you have to do solo assignments, even if that means missing out on seeing your kids grow up,” said one YouTuber, who identified himself as Nishigami.

Nishigami, who has worked alone in Tokyo for three years for an IT company, posts videos for solo beginners with tips on furnishing small apartments and sobriety.

BACK HOME

During his four-year stay in Yokohama, Tatebayashi saw his family once every two months, let alone when pandemic lockdowns hampered travel. Most other weekends, he worked, dated Fujitsu colleagues, or played video games.

He chose to live on his own because he had just bought a house in Fukuoka and didn’t want to take his daughters, then six and ten, away from school or their nearby grandparents.

The Japanese government has largely ignored lone workers in recent labor reforms which instead focus on reducing excessive overtime following several overwork deaths known as “karoshi”.

Tatebayashi estimated that it would take about a month for family life to return to normal in Fukuoka.

“My kids are happy because we can play together, but my wife says she will have a hard time relaxing if I’m home all the time,” he said.

He and most other Fujitsu employees welcome the end of solo assignments, but according to personnel manager Morikawa, this has posed a problem for some of Fujitsu’s longtime corporate nomads.

“They say they don’t have a room at home to go back to. “

Our Standards: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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