While the number of persons with disabilities working in private-sector companies continues to increase, it is currently difficult for them to work for a long time at one company, and companies are striving to create environments in which these employees can utilize their individual strengths and that support continued growth. Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, Benesse Business-mate, Inc. has attempted to enable working style reforms for persons with disabilities. We talked to the person in charge of the project to promote new working styles based on the belief that “we can do it by working with these employees,” and asked about the process involved in these initiatives and her impressions of “working” gleaned from working with persons with disabilities.
Working style reforms enacted amid the pandemic. Persons with disabilities using remote work to contribute to development and management.
The number of persons with disabilities working in private-sector companies is on the increase. This uptrend has its roots in a change to the law in 2019 which stipulated that all private-sector companies with at least 45.5 full-time employees must employ persons with disabilities, and a March 2021 increase in the statutory employment rate for persons with disabilities to 2.3%. However, it is becoming clear that it is difficult for these people to work for a long time at the same place.
Benesse Business-mate, Inc. is a special-purpose subsidiary of Benesse Group which creates and provides employment environments for people with disabilities who want to work. In recent years, it has been expanding and diversifying its operations to contribute to the various businesses of the Benesse Group. This has included developing systems that not only execute office administration tasks, but also allow for increased efficiency and automation in operations. The DX human resources team that handles system development includes employees with disabilities.
The Japanese government’s declaration of a state of emergency to combat expansion in COVID-19 infections rates came at a point when these employees had settled comfortably into their workplaces. They had already been able to show their abilities using a work request method aligned to the characteristics of each person and by receiving support to enable them to display their strengths. This included the DX human resources team achieving a workplace retention rate of 100% for employees with disabilities *1.
Amid this unprecedented situation, Benesse Business-mate, Inc. is attempting to create new working styles. Using a remote work structure of employees with disabilities for both system development and management, it has developed new administrative efficiency and automation tools through a trial-and-error method.
*1 The five members of the DX human resources team with disabilities and their length of service: one employee with 7 years of service, one employee with 5 years, two employees with 3 years, and one employee with 2 years.
The advantages and disadvantages of new working styles. Most development proceeds by gradually testing for effectiveness.
We spoke to Ms. Etsuko Noguchi, the person responsible for promoting working style reforms while providing support for employees with disabilities.
“After the state of emergency was announced, in order to prevent the spread of the virus we told all employees with disabilities, including those involved in development, to stay at home from April 2020. The development we had been working on had to be shelved, but as this situation dragged on, there were gradually concerns raised about maintaining physical health, including about disruption to people’s daily rhythm and forgetting what day it was. That is when we decided to start creating an environment and making preparations for the beginning of remote work from the middle of May.”
“Once we actually started doing it, it was evident that there are numerous advantages to teleworking for them. For example, they have become able to concentrate better on development because there is no need to expend physical effort on a commute and because there is less stress from the noise of other people at work. Microsoft Teams (Microsoft’s file sharing and chat platform) is also a good match for us as we are able to discuss in detail how to push forward development while looking at the same screen as advisors , and we use chat when we need to confirm something and have noticed a reduction in misunderstandings when things are written down rather than spoken. When they were going into the office it was a little bit stressful having to go up and talk to other people, and chat has proven to be a good tool to reduce the burden of communication on employees as we could confirm things whenever we liked.”
“However, there have been problems too. The difficulty of separating work from private time meant that daily rhythms started to be disrupted again and some people couldn’t get enough sleep. For this issue, they key is to catch the signs early and work toward a resolution by consulting with family and support organizations the individual is comfortable with. In addition, we have prioritized work volume and content by talking with people about how they feel physically, and while providing an environment free of anxiety and worry, we encourage people to take short breaks or time off when they still feel tired. In this way, we have created a stable situation both in terms of physical health and operations.”
Once this new style of working became established the speed of development more than tripled compared to that from normal working practices. The team has been able to work on development related to improving the efficiency and automation of administrative tasks, such as creating a system for the tracking of equipment lending that brings up a touch panel to allow the creation of a mail to non-returners at the touch of a button. The tracking was previously done via entries into a written ledger. This is just one example of the numerous results accrued from the new working style.
“Working” enables people to live as fully integrated members of society. I want to create a society in which everyone can feel the “joy of working.”
We asked Ms. Noguchi about the background to the new working styles project and how she sees the future.
“I was confident that we would be able to conduct development operations via remote working if it was with the team people I had been working with before. I wanted to challenge new working styles that use everyone’s individual strengths. I put my thoughts to the president directly (Benesse Business-mate, Inc. President Hiroyasu Chatani) and have been able to push ahead on this initiative thanks to his understanding.”
“Even during the pandemic, Benesse Business-mate, Inc. is providing employees with flexible working styles that suit each person and aiming to improve its service to customers. My co-workers and I all tackle our work by passionately debating amongst ourselves how we can make customers happy and how we can reduce their daily workload of administrative tasks. I hear from them that “It makes me happy to use my skills for someone else’s benefit” and that “Work helps me get over the bad times when my private life is not so good.” Being in close contact with them every day has made me realize that “working” is not just to pay for the essentials of life, but is something that enables people to live as fully integrated members of society. I want to create a society in which everyone feels this “joy of working” and is motivated to work. While cherishing this ambition, I want to continue supporting my co-workers to work for a long time.”
Benesse Business-mate, Inc. will continue to implement initiatives that promote the further employment of people with disabilities and create a society that makes use of diverse human resources.
Benesse Business-mate, Inc.
A special-purpose subsidiary of the Benesse Group established in 2005.
It provides administrative services on a subcontractor basis, such as mail services and cleaning services. It is currently expanding its operations to provide business support across the whole Benesse Group, including handling shared administrative tasks. While valuing working styles that meet individual employee needs, it aims to establish an indispensable place in society.