Monday, June 18, 2007

What Does It Take

Since I started private teaching, I've been hearing stories about my students' workplaces and recently heard about a situation in my former workplace which have often left me wondering what it takes to get fired in Japan.

One of my students, in particular, seems to be in a place where even the most egregiously inappropriate behavior won't get you sacked. This student told me that one of her coworkers spends most of her nights (up until 4:00 am at times) involved in seminars for selling Amway-style products (though it's not actually Amway). This leaves her so tired that she spends a lot of her time on the job the next day sleeping at her desk. While she's been asked not to do this, she hasn't stopped and she hasn't been fired.

This same student told me that one of her coworkers is a complete and utter bitch with everyone in the office. If anyone asks her to do a job or for assistance in accomplishing a project, she feels free to bite their heads off. She is such a bear to get along with that everyone in the section feels obliged to bribe her daily with cookies, candy, and various other sweets. The bribes don't completely stop her moody outbursts but they do keep them at a close to tolerable level.

When I ask my student why her company tolerates these workers, she said that, in the case of the moody co-worker, she knows how to use a piece of proprietary accounting system software that no one else really knows how to use with any proficiency. Since this co-worker is so hard to get any cooperation from due to her nasty temperament, no one can learn it from her. The sleeping co-worker is simply tolerated despite having no special skills. She's unsure why.

Another of my students has told me that two of her coworkers have gone off on leave for psychological reasons and that they will receive 80% of their pay for 6 months to a year while they are at home recovering from the stress they feel. Meanwhile, the rest of the staff are busting their cans trying to cover for them. This situation didn't surprise me as much because the same sort of thing occurred with one of the employees at my former company. The explanation was that he was "nervous" and would work from home when he could but was mainly just resting. When we think of workers in Japan, we don't think of companies allowing workers to take months and months off due to stress but it seems to be a not uncommon situation.

Finally, I had a long conversation with my former boss about the situation at my company as of late and he told me that my replacement has been acting up rather fiercely. His job, as was mine, is to conduct lessons via telephone as well as correct homework reports that are returned to the students. When I was there, I helped write texts when I wasn't otherwise busy. He is helping make video DVDs for language learning when he isn't busy because his talents do not lie in writing textbooks or with using desktop publishing software.

My boss told me that my replacement always leaves work on Saturdays 2-3 hours early yet claims a full day on his time sheet yet he has recently been complaining because he doesn't get Monday national holidays because his work week is Tuesday to Saturday. What is worse is the fact that he recently was returning from a session of video shooting with a Japanese co-worker and he told her to "f*ck off" and that he couldn't face going back to the office and "talking to those monkeys" again. He not only went home rather than do his 2 hours of scheduled telephone work in the office that evening but he failed to show up at all the next day and would not answer his phone.

He did finally show up and apologize for what he did but he has since been complaining about the contract and salary he received upon signing up for his second year a few months ago. He feels he should be making as much, or more, than I did after 12 years there. He also spends at least an hour a day sitting in his cubicle reading novels instead of studying video software or enhancing his video editing skills or doing something job-related. When I was there, I spent most of my free time learning Photoshop, Pagemaker, InDesign, or Illustrator because I didn't feel free to goof off on the job day-in and day-out.

On top of all of this, my replacement got arrested a year-and-half ago and was in jail for nearly 3 weeks without any contact with the company. During that time, my boss covered for him and then allowed him back. He's also been absent numerous times for colds that seem to last a week or two and other people have had to cover for him. While I don't think that people should go to work when they are miserably sick, I do think that they can work during the later stages of a cold.

One thing I will point out about my former job is that my former boss (an Aussie) is not a hard-ass. In fact, he is very tolerant and understanding of how tiring things can be and is perfectly fine with someone leaving early if there's nothing to do provided they have cleared it with him and that they are good workers otherwise. He also let us play video games between telephone lessons on weekends when the office was empty as long as it didn't affect the quality of our work. In short, there's no reason for my replacement to feel put-upon or oppressed. I'm sure that, if he were a better worker, my boss wouldn't be-grudge him enjoying his book when things aren't busy.

The most shocking thing about this situation is not that my replacement is an ungrateful slacker but rather that, when my boss said my replacement may one day bug out and not come back to work, the Japanese manager of the office said, if that happened, he'd go to the fellow's apartment and "convince him to return." My boss was flabbergasted. Given this guy's work record, he should be fired, not begged to return.

So, I have to wonder what it takes to be fired in Japan. If you can sleep on the job, verbally abuse co-workers, disappear without notice for days and take copious amounts of time off due to stress or minor illness and still keep your job, it seems there's not much that actually will get you axed.


CMUwriter said...

Shari: During your tenure at that company, did you ever see anyone get fired from that job, or are these recent incidents just the "norm" for our current time. And if you did see people get fired, what did they get fired for?

Shari said...

This is actually a harder to answer question than one might imagine. It's one of those "yes" and "no" situations.

During the first 10 years of my employment, the company was ran by a mercurial president who had his wife as a "vice-president". During his tenure, several salesmen were "convinced" to quit. This was a form of firing because these salesmen could either quit and save face or they could linger on and receive a reduction in position and salary until they decided to quit. It's essentially a form of firing.

This same president also summarily fired three office ladies because they resisted his directives to be at the beck and call of the male sales staff. Actually, only two of them resisted but he decided a clean sweep was in order and canned the third one so he could hire three completely new women that would be uncontaminated by any other office ladies with experience. The irony is that the new girls didn't have to kiss the salesmen's asses or do any of the stuff their predecessor's objected to. The mere act of resisting got two of them fired and another by association. Women, apparently, could be fired outright.

And, as I mentioned in one of my older posts, "Near Termination", I nearly got canned for refusing to comply with a request.

When the company was taken over and the old president left (with a fat pocket after selling his pig-in-a-poke company to a sucker), we went through a series of different managers who couldn't make the company work. Two of them were women, one of whom I believe may have terminated at least one person. Also, the new president, who did not work in our office, tried to convince a salesman to become his on-going hatchet man because the president himself couldn't fire people and the salesman fired one person at his behest. Ironically, the new president later did the old trick where he makes someone miserable through salary reduction and title loss so he'll quit to the fellow who he wanted to have act as a hatchet man (the salesman refused the job but that wasn't what got him fired).

I think these incidents are the norm in Japan in some companies depending on the leadership. My husband told me that his students have reported similar situations with slack employees being kept on but one has also been encouraged to accept a reduction in salary and a loss of salaried status (which could lead her to quit).

Thanks for your question and comment!

Leo said...

Wow, in the case of your old company, I find that just so...offensive