Do tell the boss: Japanese workers encouraged to sleep on the job
Inemuri - or ‘sleeping while present’ - seen as sign of hardwork rather than indolence
A worker checks bottles in the Tenzan sake brewery in Saga, Japan. An increasing number of Japanese companies are encouraging employees to sleep on the job, convinced that it leads to better work performance. Photograph: Ko Sasaki/The New York Times.
It’s a daily struggle known to office workers the world over: a productive morning rewarded with a decent lunch, and then, at about 3pm, the leaden eyelids and urge to snatch 40 winks.
In Japan, where workers get less sleep on work nights than those in other countries, more and more companies are encouraging employees to sleep on the job, convinced that it leads to better work performance.
Okuta, a home renovation firm near Tokyo, allows its employees to take a 20-minute power nap at their desks or in the staff lounge. Introduced two years ago on the orders of the firm’s chairman, Isamu Okuta, it has proved a huge hit.
“If I use a calculator when I’m sleepy, I have to double-check my work for fear of making mistakes, so it takes longer,” Ikuko Yamada, who works in accounts, told the Yomiuri Shimbun newspaper. “I think my work performance has improved since I started taking naps.”
Hugo Inc, an internet consulting company based in Osaka, has a more flexible approach: employees can take a 30-minute siesta any time between 1pm and 4pm.
Japan’s legions of salaried workers have more reason than most to give in to the urge for an afternoon nap. According to the US National Sleep Foundation’s poll of sleeping habits around the world, Japanese workers sleep, on average, for just six hours 22 minutes on work nights - less than those in any other country.
Not surprisingly, only 54 per cent of Japanese respondents to the “bedroom poll” felt they got a good night’s sleep every or almost every night. Only 8 per cent managed more than eight hours. Workers in the UK get only 27 minutes more, at six hours 49 minutes, but Canadians, Mexicans and Germans all regularly achieve more than seven hours sleep, according to the poll.
In Japan inemuri - or “sleeping while present” - is considered the preserve of employees exhausted by their commitment to hard work, rather than a sign of indolence. Exponents of inemuri, however, generally have to remain upright to avoid appearing slovenly.
Japan’s new approach is less about saving face than burying it in a plump pillow. The sanctioned siesta has spawned an industry in daytime sleep services.
At Gmo Internet, an IT firm in Tokyo, employees have sofas to curl up on, while workers in the Umeda business district of Osaka can go off-site to a nearby public napping facility with beds.
Tokyo’s Ohirune Cafe Corne has eight beds for working women who want to sleep in partitioned comfort, soothed by the scent of essential oils. It charges 160 yen for every 10 minutes - and a pair of pyjamas for 100 yen - and clients stay for almost an hour on average, according to the Asahi Shimbun.
Japan’s growing tolerance for undisguised dozing during office hours comes after the government issued new guidelines on the importance of sleep, with the health ministry recommending that all working-age people take a nap of up to 30 minutes in the early afternoon.