Trends in Japan

Paid Leave and Subsidies Offered to Encourage Volunteer Work

NOVEMBER 26, 1996

Subway officer lectures volunteers from private companies on disaster relief. (Photo: Kyodo)

Corporate support for employees' volunteer activities has been on the rise in recent years, with an increasingly diverse range of programs being offered. The trend reflects the growing eagerness among companies to win approval as outstanding members of their communities.

Paid leave for volunteer work is quickly becoming the most popular form of support. According to two surveys conducted by Keidanren (Japan Federation of Economic Organizations), the proportion of its member companies with paid leave programs shot up from 3% in July 1994 to 23% less than a year later, in February 1995. Moreover, an additional 39% of the 1995 respondents said they were considering the implementation of such a system.

Subsidies and Awards Also Big
Paid leave is not the only way companies show their backing. A number have also begun offering subsidies. One Osaka gas company, for example, instituted a system for subsidizing community-based activities following the Great Hanshin Earthquake that struck the city of Kobe in January 1995.

The first grant, totaling 50,000 yen (455 dollars at 110 yen to the dollar), went to an employee for her work at a local FM radio station set up right after the earthquake to assist foreigners living in disaster-stricken areas. Run by a volunteer group, the station broadcasts local news and announcements on such topics as housing, shopping, transportation, and schools, as well as overseas news of interest to the foreign community, in five languages, including Vietnamese, Korean, and Chinese. The employee is in charge of an Italian-music program broadcast every Sunday.

Meanwhile, a major manufacturer of copiers recently launched a system in which employees deemed to have made outstanding contributions to society are given a higher bonus, with the additional amount equivalent to 10% of their monthly salary. The company says that about 300 to 400 employees out of a total work force of 15,000 are so honored during each semiannual bonus. A wide range of activities have been targeted for the award, from participating in a fire fighting squad to coaching a children's soccer team.

Employees agree that the actual amount of the award is not substantial, but the very existence of the program shows their firm is dedicated to supporting volunteer and community work. In this respect, the system provides them with a clear go-ahead signal to get involved.

Companies that Lay the Groundwork
Some companies have gone even further in their efforts to promote volunteer work by doing the actual groundwork. One Tokyo gas company, for example, introduces its employees to welfare facilities near their homes and schedules a number of four-day periods each year during which they can undergo internships at these institutions. Participants are given two days of paid leave for this purpose. The number of people participating in the program has increased to 100 a year.

Another major corporate group recently instituted a program for introducing its retirees to volunteer organizations. The decision to offer such a system was made in the light of findings by the group's research institute that 40% of the employees wish to take part in volunteer activities after their retirement, and nearly half of the retirees have actually done some volunteer work. The group plans to expand the scope of the program to include introductions to volunteer organizations for the general public.

The Rise of Corporate Citizens
Executives and employees have grown much more conscious of the impor tance of good corporate citizenship, which is one reason for the rush of support for volunteer and community activities. No longer can firms win public approval through their business operations alone; today they must also contribute to society as outstanding members of their community.

However, another motivating factor is the realization among both companies and employees that employee creativity is a key to future survival, and contact with the world outside the company may provide a way for fostering this. In this regard, corporate assimilation into the local community is bound to make further strides in the coming years.

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