Saturday, October 21, 2006

Japanese Working Syle

Last Saturday, one of my students called and cancelled her lesson because she had worked all night and was too wrecked physically to maker her lesson. This is relatively common behavior among some Japanese employees. In fact, back at my former company, I came in one Saturday morning to find that one of the salesmen had worked all Friday night.

Since these workers are salaried, they don't get paid for the overtime and, more often than not, they don't take compensation time. I've often asked them why they are required to do this. They usually tell me that it is somehow their own fault. The most common excuse is that he or she is too slow and incompetent. My student said she is essentially a perfectionist. My husband's students have said that the company is understaffed and that requires them to work a lot of overtime, but mine seem reluctant to blame the company.

I asked my student why, when things got busy, that someone else in the office didn't pick up the slack. She said that the company is organized in such a way that each person is relatively specialized and can't really accomplish the tasks of other employees. I'm not sure if this situation is particular to her company or common in all Japanese companies but I do know that such specialization was not uncommon among the Japanese staff in my former office. The strange thing was that it wasn't the case among the foreign staff. We could do almost every aspect of each other's work so that, if someone was sick or took a vacation, he or she could be covered for.

I'm not sure if this situation is by design or a byproduct of some cultural aspect which I'm not aware of but it sure allows the companies to take advantage of their employees and discourage the taking of vacation time. If you are the only one in your section who can accomplish a task, your absence for any reason not only results in that work not getting done for the duration but also ensures you will return to a huge pile of work and have to endure a lot of overtime to get caught up.


タニア said...

I think I can understand why they like their work or task to seem specialized. Maybe to make it seems they are not so easily replaceable by others. If others can do their job while they are out, then when time to downsize or cut cost, they will be the first to go. Also with everything being done on the computer, there is timestamp to all the work you send out so your "overtime" is recorded even though not compensated, so maybe they feel people will know and appreciate the efforts put into finishing it.

Shari said...

I can understand why you might say that but I've always been given the impression that Japanese people have a far greater sense of job security than people in western countries do. They don't tend to worry too much about being replaced by someone who can do their job. It has always seemed to be a form of inefficiency to me. That is, people only learn as little as needed to do what they have to and don't go beyond that. I could be wrong about that. I think I'll ask one of my students next weekend to see what she thinks because she's been having problems with a coworker who is extremely moody but everyone tolerates and coddles her because she's the only one who can input certain types of data.

I don't think Japanese companies pay any attention to computer logs regarding work, at least mine never did. In fact, I think the idea of tracking productivity would never occur to them. They just seem to look at aggregate results. Again though, I could be wrong. I've only worked in one small company and their habits may have been idiosyncratic and atypical.

Thanks for your comment!