Japanese fashion retail giant Uniqlo will be setting up shop in Canada next year, and it may bring a labour-market innovation with it: A four-day work week.
Uniqlo owner Fast Retailing Co. announced this week it’s making the idea a reality for 10,000 of its Japanese employees, who will get the chance to enjoy a three-day weekend every week, the Japan Times reports.
But workers will have to put in 10-hour days the four days they do work, and some will have to work weekend shifts to ensure stores are fully staffed during busy periods. The program will be voluntary, and the company expects about 20 per cent to sign up initially.
Fast Retailing says the move is meant to help it retain talent amid a labour shortage in Japan, and in particular to retain female employees.
"We've got a big program at the moment, working towards empowering women in the workforce," a company spokesperson told CNBC. "The idea is that if you've got kids, it gives you a lot more flexibility."
If the idea proves successful, Fast Retailing may expand it to its other retail chains, and to overseas markets as well, CNN reports.
Uniqlo will open its first two Canadian locations in Toronto next year, at the Eaton Centre downtown and the Yorkdale Mall in north Toronto. It's expected to expand into Vancouver after that.
The company has aggressive expansion plans and has previously said it wants to be the world’s largest retailer by the end of the decade.
The retailer has built a network of 1,500 stores in 16 countries, including 39 locations in the U.S., by offering moderately priced casual clothing.
Its day four-day work week is part of this strategy, as it seeks to expand its Japanese staff to 16,000 from its current 10,000.
But Uniqlo is by no means the only retailer making four-day work week schedules available to employees, and in recent years the idea has become popular among some in the business community who say it improves productivity.
"Since we implemented flexible workweeks in 2008, all the metrics a CEO cares about have gone in the right direction," Delta Emerson, head of global shared services for tax firm Ryan, told Fast Company earlier this year.
The company’s employee turnover rate fell to 11 per cent from 30 per cent, revenue and profit nearly doubled, and the firm has received numerous “best place to work” awards.
Volkswagen was an early adopter of the four-day work week, introducing it in the 1990s, when it was credited with saving 30,000 jobs at the carmaker during an economic slowdown. But Volkswagen dropped the four-day work week in 2006, as part of contract negotiations.
However, at Volkswagen, Ryan and other companies, four-day work weeks meant fewer working hours overall. Uniqlo plans to keep working hours at similar levels by having employees work longer shifts.
According to research from the Society for Human Resource Management, 43 per cent of U.S. employers offer a four-day work week option, but only 10 per cent offer it for all employees. Only five per cent of large employers offer a four-day work week option.
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