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Japanese firms hiring more people with mental health issues

News Desk

Kyodo News

Tokyo  /  Mon, August 21, 2017  /  04:35 pm
Japanese firms hiring more people with mental health issues

People with mental health issues such as chronic depression and social adjustment disorder often have high ability, and many companies thus see them as qualified human resources. (Shutterstock/File)

Companies in Japan are becoming more active in hiring people with mental health issues as they prepare for a new law on the employment of people with disabilities due to take effect next spring.

Measures to assist such workers include setting up a support division with a licensed psychiatric social worker, providing paid leave for doctor's visits and devising specific job manuals to avoid disruptions in work flows in case of sudden absence.

People with mental health issues such as chronic depression and social adjustment disorder often have high ability, and many companies thus see them as qualified human resources.

Kazuaki Hagiwara suffers from a schizophrenic condition but works as a back-office section chief at Transcosmos Inc., an outsourcing service company in Tokyo in the information technology field. The section consists of workers with disabilities.

Hagiwara used to work as a system engineer but developed mental health problems when he was in his 20s, working hard often on no sleep.

He began working as a part-timer at Transcosmos and became a regular worker this year.

"I hid my condition at the company where I worked before, but I feel at ease here as I have colleagues with similar problems and our bosses understand us," he said, adding that he is seeking a higher managerial position.

Transcosmos has set up a system to look after workers with mental health issues. It hired a certified psychiatric social worker so those workers can get professional advice at work whenever needed.

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At present, the company employs about 300 people with physical, intellectual and mental disabilities. About 70 of them have mental health issues.

Hiroyuki Kohara, executive officer, said, "We want to continue hiring qualified people (with disabilities)," but admitted there are certain obstacles.

To date, Japan has a quota system for the employment of people with physical and intellectual disabilities, requiring a business with 50 or more employees to ensure that disabled workers account for at least 2 percent of its total employees. Financial incentives are paid for meeting the quota, while firms falling short face a fine.

The law is set to be changed next April with the required ratio to go up to 2.2 percent and the scope of disabilities to be extended to include mental health issues. People who have a "mental disability certificate" and who can stably manage their conditions and function in the workplace should be included.

In anticipation of the change, companies including major ones began increasing their hiring of people with mental health issues, many of whom show a strong will to work.

According to the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry, a total of 86,000 people with mental health issues registered at public job-placement offices nationwide in fiscal 2016. They constituted 40 percent of all job seekers with disabilities that year.

Employers, however, face difficulties after hiring people with mental health issues. Typical problems are that such workers tend to take time off work frequently or quit entirely shortly after being hired. Their co-workers often do not know how to deal with such problems.

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In an effort to encourage such workers to keep their jobs, Resorttrust Inc., a membership-based hotel chain operator in Nagoya, adopted new work rules last year.

Under the rules, such workers can take paid leave to visit doctors. There are also specific work manuals allowing them to share a job with others so a sudden absence does not disrupt the workflow. In addition, if they feel unwilling to speak directly with a superior, they can communicate with notes.

Central Helicopter Service Ltd. in the town of Toyoyama in Aichi Prefecture also introduced a new approach for workers with mental health issues. It created a short working-hours program as those workers tend not to be able to manage long shifts.

"I can work without forcing myself," said a 29-year-old male worker who suffers from a schizophrenic condition. He works at the company's quality assurance section.

"I used to be among those who have a biased view about this illness," he says. "But now I want my colleagues to treat me as they treat others."

According to Akina Noguchi, executive officer of LITALICO Inc., a Tokyo company supporting the education and employment of people with disabilities, there are three points to bear in mind for successfully hiring people with mental disorders.

They are: providing jobs that suit them; providing jobs that they feel are rewarding; and giving proper consideration to their conditions.

Employers will see some good "spillover effects" from hiring people with mental problems, Noguchi says. "They will find an opportunity to review existing mental health management for all of their employees, as well as to review the entire work procedures in their offices."

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