Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Fake Concern

One of my students works for a major electronics manufacturer and has been working a lot of overtime over the past 6 months. Recently, she had planned to go to Australia for a vacation with her husband on the heels of a business trip to Hong Kong. Unfortunately, due to her poor health from working too much, she couldn't go to Australia.

During her last lesson with me, she related some details of her business trip to Hong Kong which were of interest. She said that she was feeling under the weather during the trip and her manager insisted that she return prematurely to Japan. He said that he, as the boss, was responsible for her health and well-being.

After a day's rest, she insisted that she was fine and could remain in Hong Kong for the duration of the trip. The manager told her she had to go anyway and reiterated his responsibility. My student said that she couldn't understand his logic because, if he were so concerned about her health, it would make sense that he'd stop working her so hard in Japan.

My student's naivete left me somewhat amused. I guess she's not cynical enough to realize that her boss had no concern for her health per se. He was worried about her becoming ill in Hong Kong because she'd have to go to a hospital there and the company would have to pay the expense. Additionally, her travel arrangements (hotel, plane tickets) may have to be adjusted in a manner which would cost the company more money. The reason he didn't express concern for her health in Japan is that working her to the point of illness in Japan costs the company nothing. If she misses work due to illness, her work just piles up and she has to work that much harder upon her eventual return.

Fortunately for her, she's being changed to a different area of work and will have a different boss. She told me her new boss will be a woman and her new work will be about dealing with advertising on the web in English. I'm not so sure she'll endure any less stress but she's fairly confident that her days of working overnight or until the wee hours of the morning are over.


Roy said...

I don't know your student obviously and I may be a complete insensitive jerk for saying this but I wouldn't jump to the conclusion that she was being forced to overwork against her will and that her boss wasn't showing genuine concern for her health.

In my experience, there are a lot of people who create their own predicament because of some victim complex and then proceed to tell their sob story to everyone who will listen and feel sorry for them. I used to have students who would do this all the time and after a while I got tired of listening and feeding that vicious cycle of self-pity by showing concern. I'm of the opinion that people create their own situations and they have no one to blame but themselves. Even when it appears that they are truly the victims of some injustices I still think that it manifested due to some deeper subconscious neuroses.

Could it be that her sickness in HK was a subconscious attempt at getting attention and then when she got it from her boss she suddenly felt better? She may not realize this herself if she were raised in a environment where the only time she got attention from her parents was when she was sick.

Despite getting a new boss, I have a feeling that in a few weeks your student will be telling you the same story of overwork and ill health.

Tokyo Rosa said...

sorry, roy, but that is an insensitive and cynical response.

if you aren't a practicing psychologist or psychiatrist, i don't think you have the right to toss around terms like "victim complex," and "subconscious neuroses." in fact, i would also suggest that, no matter how long you've been in japan, unless you are japanese, it's all but impossible to offer an objective assessment of the psychological predicaments faced by japanese and the ramifications of work-related stress on the minds and bodies of japanese workers.

i don't fault the student for thinking that you can provide a sympathetic ear. i think any foreigner who has lived or lives in japan comes to understand that japanese feel free to tell foreigners things that they would never tell another japanese. it could be that this is one of those cases.

it's all too easy to blame the individual when in fact it is the system that is at fault. this woman has worked herself to the point of exhaustion as do many japanese in similar positions. i actually think she deserves some sympathy for her plight and some credit for trying to change her situation (by changing her boss).

sorry for the long answer, shari, but you might consider that perhaps your student confides in you because you are her sensei, and as such, she thinks you might take her well-being seriously.

Shari said...

You raise some interesting possibilities, Roy. You may be right but, in the case of this student, I think the situation unlikely but certainly not impossible.

This particular student isn't really a whiner type and, in fact, has said on many occasions that she wants to be as positive as possible about everything.

I do agree that people tend to "make their own reality" though sometimes that is by allowing themselves to be taken advantage of rather than actively martyring themselves. I put my student in the category of the former rather than the latter but I could be wrong. For the Japanese, it's pretty hard to resist being taken advantage of relative to us foreigners.

One thing I do believe will happen is that she'll work to the point of illness again but not because of a lame boss. I think her English ability isn't good enough for the task ahead and she'll have to push herself to get on top of it. All her lessons with me to this point have been pretty casual and now we're going to have to do structured lessons with a text geared toward web-based English. It'll be interesting to see how she does.

Roy said...

Well, I hope I'm wrong and your student does overcome her situation for the better. Keep us posted.

Shari said...

One of the reasons I never reveal any specific details about my students (like the names of their companies or even their first names which would be relatively non-descript) is that I do take what they say seriously.

In her case though, she's not really unburdening herself on me. She has a husband who she speaks to about her circumstances and a really big family that she is close to. I believe she is one of 6 children. She tells me mainly because I ask how she's doing because I notice how tired she sometimes looks. Her husband would like her to quit her job so she could walk away any time. She just prefers to work. She's not trapped by her circumstances.

I was the one who suggested her boss was perhaps more concerned with the logistical difficulties of her falling ill in Hong Kong and she accepted my suggestion as a possibility but I'm not sure she wholeheartedly agreed.

At any rate, I think both you and Roy have points. Situations are always multi-faceted though I will say that I don't think Roy meant any harm.Since we discuss these situations in the abstract, I appreciate the various perspectives I get from people who are kind enough to make comments. :-)