Chapter 3.
2017 2021
ESG Management and Technological Innovation—Paving the Way for a Sustainable Future

Human Resources and Work Style Reform

Ensuring Fair Human Resource Management Practices and Promoting Diversity

Obayashi Corporation has been a driving force behind creating workplaces where diverse personnel can play an active role. This is based on an understanding that what supports the company are the capabilities of each individual employee. Any form of discrimination on the basis of race, gender, nationality, religion, and other factors unrelated to ability and job performance is strictly prohibited in all aspects of hiring, promotion, and the like. Also, efforts are made to provide an environment in which the humanity of each employee is respected, while at the same time, every individual is free to express their unique talents.

The company set up the special subsidiary Oak Friendly Service Corporation to employ persons with intellectual and mental disabilities and has been employing people with disabilities at all its 11 offices since its establishment in 2001. Under the guidance of job coaches with specialized knowledge, the subsidiary’s employees perform jobs that line up with their personal capabilities. Oak Friendly Service’s aim is to provide employees with opportunities for independence, as well as ways to make a positive impact in wider society. In addition, the subsidiary has also been accepting students from special-needs schools as workplace interns every year since its foundation, helping support the students in their future career education.

As for the promotion of equal opportunities for women in the workplace, in 2003, the company abolished its original set of classifications that split employees into “Sogo-shoku,” “Senmon-shoku,” and “Ippan-shoku,” and has since been strictly ensuring that employees are hired and assigned to positions and departments according to their capabilities. The company laid out its First Action Plan for the period of April 2016 to March 2021 based on Japan’s Act on Promotion of Women’s Participation and Advancement in the Workplace took effect in April 2016, which was followed by a Second Action Plan for the period of April 2021 to March 2025. The ratio of female employees in technical fields grew from 8.8 percent in FY2017.3 to 9.8 percent in FY2021.3, and this is steadily approaching the target set for FY2025.3 of around 12 percent. As a result of these initiatives, the company was awarded “Eruboshi” certification by the Minister of Health, Labour and Welfare in May 2021.

Respect for Human Rights

Under the Obayashi Basic Principles, the company regards respect for human rights as one of the most important social responsibilities of a business. For this reason, the company has been continuously working to raise awareness of human rights among all of its employees. As a way of promoting awareness of human rights in keeping with the Obayashi Statement on Human Rights, which was set out in June 2011, the company has undertaken a wide range of initiatives, such as a project in which employees are asked to create slogans in keeping with the theme of human rights awareness, which is carried out alongside human rights week.

The company’s Human Rights Awareness Promotion Committee, chaired by the executive officer in charge of human resources, meets once a year. The policies determined by the committee also form the basis of group company efforts in introducing human rights training that is tailored to each company’s respective business activities and regional characteristics. Moreover, the company has begun undertaking human rights due diligence, which involves finding and understanding human rights-related risks, including identifying the most severe human rights issues.

Obayashi Corporation also conducts training for all employees on a wide range of human rights topics, including harassment, diversity and inclusion, sexual orientation and gender identity (SOGI), and racial discrimination. The training enables employees to recognize the importance of having a proper awareness and sensitivity toward human rights which respects individual diversity and does not discriminate in any way. In January 2017, Japan’s revised Equal Employment Opportunity and Child Care and Family Care Leave Acts came into effect. In addition to existing policies against sexual harassment, the new acts also required that companies enact policies to prevent unfair treatment against pregnant women and mothers in the workplace (so-called “maternity harassment”). The same month that the act came into effect, the company laid out its Maternity Harassment Prevention Guidelines as well as related guidelines, and carried out training on harassment prevention for employees. The company also conducted training on harassment prevention and risk management in April 2019 as a part of its workplace training on corporate ethics targeted to executive officers. In June of the following year, the guidelines on power harassment and other related guidelines were consolidated to form the Harassment Prevention Guidelines.

Human rights consultation desks were also improved. In addition to its existing Corporate Ethics Reporting System, the company also established a dedicated hotline in April 2016 for consulting on disability-related matters. Three years later, in April 2019, the company set up the Harassment Prevention Department, followed by the Obayashi Group harassment consultation and reporting hotline in June. The Harassment Prevention Department receives consultations not only from people who have themselves experienced harassment, but also from third party and anonymous reporters. Thorough protections are put in place to ensure that reporters are not subjected to disadvantageous treatment. The company also displays posters to make the presence of the consultation office known to persons both inside and outside the company and discloses analysis results regarding the details of consultations internally in its aim to eradicate any and all harassment in the workplace.

Work Style Reform and Workplace Environment Enhancement

Obayashi Corporation has been continuously working to reduce employee working hours as a way to support and improve physical and mental health of its employees, as well as to secure skilled workers for the construction industry. Recognizing that rectifying the issue of long work hours goes hand in hand with improving work efficiency and increasing productivity, the company organized the Work Style Reform Project Team under the direct control of the president in September 2017 to discuss this issue and laid out its Work Style Reform Action Plan in 2018. In line with the main policies under this action plan, the company set forth to improve work efficiency using leading-edge ICT tools such as Robotic Process Automation (RPA, introduced in 2018) and to encourage employees to take annual paid leave and compensatory days off through a vacation and leave schedule.

The goal of FY2019.3—the year that the company first began working to set appropriate delivery dates and closing construction sites on Saturdays—was to close building construction sites on five days out of every four-week period and civil engineering construction sites on eight days out of every four-week period. Overall, over 40 percent of construction sites were able to close on six days or more out of every four-week period. And, as a result of creating detailed process plans, raising awareness of the Work Style Reform initiative, and striving to improve work efficiency, this rose to 71 percent of construction sites in FY2021.3. The company also enhanced measures to promote flexible styles of working. One such measure was the telecommuting program, which was formally introduced at all workplaces from October 2019. To prepare for the shift to more diverse styles of working, the company upgraded existing web conferencing systems and information sharing tools, in addition to providing enhanced IT support. While telecommuting had already been steadily gaining momentum throughout the company, the declaration of a state of emergency in Japan (based on the Act on Special Measures for Pandemic Influenza and New Infectious Diseases Preparedness and Response) in April 2020 following the spread of COVID-19 in early 2020 led the company to set a goal of having 70 percent of the workforce in back offices work from home during the state of emergency. The goal was then amended to 50 percent once the declaration was lifted in May that same year.

Moreover, the company implemented its Sixth Action Plan (April 2017 to March 2021) based on Japan’s Act on Advancement of Measures to Support Raising Next-Generation Children, with the objective of creating a workplace that would allow employees to balance work and family life, thereby enabling them to work with peace of mind. Under this plan, the company achieved its targets of having 15 percent or more male employees take childcare leave or leave for childcare purposes, and 90 percent or more female employees take childcare leave within the period of the plan. The target set in the Seventh Action Plan (April 2021 to March 2025) is to achieve a percent usage rate of childcare leave or leave for childcare purposes of 100% annually among male employees by FY2025.3.

As for the company’s childcare support system, the plan did not just prescribe implementing childcare leave and shortened work hours according to the law and regulations, but also looked toward enhancing the company’s own internal support system. For example, in October 2017, the age range covered by childcare leave was extended from the age of two to the age of three in certain cases, such as when an employee is not able to enroll their child in a nursery school. Another example is from April 2018, when the company also expanded the leave system to allow employees to take seven or more consecutive days off to care for children under the age of two.

The company similarly enhanced its system to support nursing care in January 2017 by introducing systems that reduce working hours and stagger shifts. These systems enabled employees to take care of elderly and other family members. Furthermore, as a way of deepening employee understanding of nursing care, the company created an informative video and posted it publicly, following up with regular seminars on the topic.

In February 2017, these efforts earned recognition from the Certified Health & Productivity Management Organizations Recognition Program organized by Japan’s Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry and the Nippon Kenko Kaigi. Obayashi Corporation was recognized as a “White 500” enterprise under the large enterprise category.

Digital Transformation in Construction and Work Style Reform

In Japan, construction sites used to be considered to be prime examples of the 3Ds: dirty, dangerous, and demanding, and on top of that, they required considerable manpower. When the bubble economy burst in the early 1990s, efforts to improve productivity in the construction industry lagged behind those of other industries due to a surplus of labor in the subsequent decades of economic stagnation (known as the “Lost 20 Years”). However, information and communications technology (ICT) has drastically improved in recent years, and other industries have made huge strides in increasing their productivity through the use of this technology.

No industry can avoid the major challenge of increasing productivity as Japan enters a period of population decline. Likewise, innovation in the construction industry, which forms the backbone of social infrastructure, is an issue that must be addressed by the entire country.

Digital Transformation (DX) has the potential to solve some of these challenges faced by the construction industry and to significantly change how people in the industry work. Even at construction sites, which have come to rely heavily on human labor, the Internet of Things (IoT) connects physical to virtual, such as machines and design data, resulting in improved productivity through automation and robotization. For instance, construction can be carried out using 3D data via ICT-linked construction machinery. Furthermore, incorporating 3D data into all types of construction production processes will enable construction planning and management to be undertaken with a view across the entire construction production system, which will lead to further labor-saving.

In FY2013.3, the company distributed tablets to all technical employees engaged in construction management at construction sites in an effort to transform on-site work styles ahead of the national i-Construction initiative and work style reform. Technical and safety-related materials (such as the Safety Digest) needed for construction management have been made available as standard on the devices. This has allowed users to check materials, emails, and other information on the spot without having to return to the on-site office. The company also introduced and maintained digitalized field notes, quality inspection systems, worksite communication and coordination systems, and other applications on the devices, which expanded the scope of work that could be done while on site.

In addition, in FY2016.3, the company developed Envital, a system that measures workers’ heart rates using wearable vital sensors (heart rate sensors) integrated into their shirts to alert them of risks, such as heat stroke in summer. Envital additionally shares data related to the work environment to the cloud. The technology has been in full-scale operation since FY2018.3. Continuous improvements have been made to Envital since then. In FY2020.3, for instance, the technology was upgraded to a wristband sensor. Alongside these advances, the company has been making continuous enhancements to the working environment.

Today, the automation jobs that were formerly described as “3D jobs” is underway. Obayashi Corporation has positioned DX as a means of contributing not only to increased productivity, but also to enhanced safety, and is endeavoring to implement work style reform through DX at each of its worksites.