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ISHES Newsletter #45: Workplace Simulation of Work-Life Balance with Children: Kirin Holdings' "Nari-Kirin Mom/Dad Training"

2022/04/25 17:32:47
ISHES Newsletter #45
April 25, 2022

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Copyright (c) 2022

Institute for Studies in Happiness, Economy and Society, Japan

Dear Readers,

The month of April marks the start of a new school year in Japan. In other countries, it may be unusual for the academic year to start this month. April is also the beginning of a new fiscal year for many Japanese companies, so many adults as well feel like they are turning over a new leaf.

This newsletter of the Institute for Studies in Happiness, Economy and Society is also having somewhat of a fresh start this month. We will continue to cover positive stories from Japan about happiness, economy, and society, but from now on we will be switching to one issue every two months. We hope you will like what you see.


Workplace Simulation of Work-Life Balance with Children:
Kirin Holdings' "Nari-Kirin Mom/Dad Training"


Photo by Gabe Pierce on Unsplash.

By the Institute for Studies in Happiness, Economy and Society (ISHES), Japan

In Japan, it is common to find workplaces that don't provide adequate conditions for employees to continue working while raising children. Here we introduce a unique initiative that is trying to improve things by letting everyone experience working with the time constraints felt when one is really a parent.


In Japan as in other countries, women were typically expected to quit work when they get married or give birth, to become full-time homemakers. But things have changed. Like elsewhere, working moms are more common in Japan today. Still, women carry a heavier burden of housework than men. According to the Databook of International Labour Statistics 2019, issued by the Japan Institute for Labour Policy and Training, Japanese men spend 1 hour and 8 minutes (68 minutes) a day for household work and family care, compared to women at 4 hours and 2 minutes (242 minutes). Compared to some countries in Europe and the United States, women in Japan still spend a much higher amount of time doing household-related work compared to men (see chart).

In these circumstances, many workplaces in Japan still don't pay much attention to the status of women in their child-rearing years, because women themselves tend to choose reduced working hours and flexible part-time jobs, rather than working full time. We now see a self-reinforcing cycle. Child-rearing while working is very hard, so many women change their workstyle from full time to reduced hours or part time when they have children, which leads to no improvements in the work environment for employees who are rearing children. How can we transform this cycle?

We can learn much from the "Nari-Kirin Mom/Dad Training" program of Kirin Holdings, well known as a leading beverage manufacturer based in Japan. "Nari-Kirin" is a play on words of "Kirin" plus narikiri, which would mean "acting as someone." Kirin started this program company-wide in 2018, with the purpose of enhancing labor productivity and nurturing an organizational landscape where employees of diverse backgrounds can exercise their talents, by experiencing what it's like to hold down a job while parenting and dealing with other situations with time constraints. In this issue of ISHES Newsletter, we will introduce this initiative.

Pilot study started

Photo by Headway on Unsplash.

What triggered the effort of the Nari-Kirin Mom/Dad Training was the Eijyo College Summit (the word "eijyo" means female employees working in sales) in 2016, organized by the New Eijyo College, which provides educational programs for female employees in sales at various companies. The 2016 summit was held under the theme of "Enhancement of labor productivity in sales teams," and various companies conducted pilot studies, competing with each other on their results.

At that time, female employees in sales positions at the company faced various challenges. Those who did not have children were worried about being able to continue working when they had a baby in the future, while those who did have children found it difficult without any role models to follow. That's when they came up with an idea. If they could not imagine what it would be like to raise children while working, why not try to simulate it? And how about involving supervisors and co-workers in the experience of being a working parent? This is how the pilot study to experience being a working mom got started.

But how could they simulate an environment close to that of real working mothers? While rearing children, working mothers sometimes get calls from nursery schools saying "Your child has a fever. Please come to pick up as soon as possible." Therefore, in the simulation, they created a system to handle the scenario of getting unexpected calls and participants being able to stop work and leave immediately to pick up an imaginary child. Also, assuming that the participants had supportive partners, detailed guidelines were created, for example, to allow participants to work overtime or go out with co-workers once a week. Five female employees participated to become "working mothers" in this pilot study, which was conducted for one month.

When a phone call came in saying "Your child has a fever. Please come and pick up your child" just before leaving the office to visit clients, they had to call the clients to cancel appointments at the last minute. Since the clients had been told about the pilot study in advance, the typical response was "I understand. No problem." In addition, they discovered greater cooperation than expected, with supervisors even offering, "Shall I visit the client instead of you?"

Regarding main topic of "Enhancement of labor productivity in sales teams" at the Eijyo College Summit, it turned out that there was no drop in productivity for any of the participants, and what's more, they reduced overtime work hours by 51%. While participating in this pilot study, they made continuous efforts to work efficiently, including asking supervisors to check to ensure that papers and materials were going in the right direction when 70% complete, and reducing travel time to boost efficiency.

Through this pilot, participants became confident that they could continue working even after really having children. Also, seeing participants working so efficiently, their co-workers kept an eye on how things were going and offered to help them when they suddenly had to leave work to pick up their "children." In fact, this also led to changes in management and organizational culture in the workplace.

Above, we mentioned a three-part self-reinforcing cycle, and this pilot dealt with two, by addressing the image that child-rearing while working is very hard, and improving the working environment for employees rearing children.

This pilot study was praised by external experts and won the grand prize at the 2016 New Eijyo College, in a competition that had 31 teams.

Company-wide program launched

What happened next? Managers suggested that the program should continue operating in the company as a part of employee training, so starting in 2018 it became a company-wide program known as the "Nari-Kirin Mom/Dad Training" at then Kirin Co., Ltd. (currently Kirin Holdings Co., Ltd.).

Before launching as a company-wide program, the pilot was based on specific scenarios, for example, kids aged around two years old and a worker living with a partner; no support from the worker's parents; and working full time. The program was designed to last about a month, just like the pilot. The scenario of sudden notice of kids' fever is of course still included. When a call comes in about a child having fever, the standard instruction is for the worker to leave work immediately and pick up the kid, or to stay home the next day to look after the sick child. Dads and moms who are notified are expected to follow instructions they get by phone. This requires an organization to have systematic procedures for supervisors and co-workers to take over work duties.

If the worker has to work overtime and will not be able to make it to pick up the kid at nursery school, an imaginary babysitter can be requested. In this case, the approximate cost of the babysitter's fee will be recorded assuming that an external babysitter is requested. The babysitter cost depends on the average babysitting fees in the area. In addition to childcare, there are scenarios for nursing elderly people and sick partners.

Achievements and future potential of Nari-Kirin Mom/Dad Training

Photo by Austin Distel on Unsplash.

Four years have passed since the beginning of the company-wide program in 2018. Kirin already had achieved 100% female childcare leave and return-to-work rates. After the launch of the program, the male childcare leave rate increased significantly, from 29% in 2017 to 50% in 2021. Here are some comments from male workers who were involved in the pilot: "I appreciate that I was allowed to leave work in the middle of an assignment when I had to leave early to pick up my child. I hope I can support my co-workers if they face a similar situation." "This made me realize how stressful it could be to handle all my work and still be able to leave the office at the same time every day to take care of my child." The comments show that the initial purpose of transforming the organizational culture was fulfilled to a certain degree.

Since March 2022, the purpose of the program has been changed from group participation to focus on individuals' approaches to workstyle as parents. Participants can now join individually, besides the original program that focused on departments or group participation. The model of the Nari-Kirin Mom/Dad Training has also been introduced into training programs of municipalities, so we can see that it is spreading widely outside of the company.

When people face major life events such as the need for childcare and eldercare, many may feel insecure about work-life balance. The opportunity to simulate situations while working under a program such as the Nari-Kirin Mom/Dad Training enables people to prepare and feel more secure. In addition, workplaces and their associates can be readied to create an enabling environment. These kinds of initiatives play an important role to create a society that supports a diversity of workstyles.

Institute for Studies in Happiness, Economy and Society

*The Institute for Studies in Happiness, Economy and Society (ISHES) is an organization based in Japan that is working to build a happy and sustainable society. To this end, we need to think about happiness, the economy and society together by learning from, analyzing, and thinking about theories and cases in Japan and around the world on what happiness is and what kind of economy and society will create and support happiness.

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