Roughly 40 percent of expatriate professionals working in Japan say they feel discriminated against at work on account of their nationality or gender, Chisato Tanaka writes for the Japan Times, citing a recent survey by Adecco Ltd.:
Responding to a multiple-answer question on what they do not like about working in Japan, 43 percent cited gender inequality. Around 40 percent said they have trouble with indirect or nonverbal communication with colleagues.
Asked how they see their Japanese colleagues’ performance, 80 percent said their Japanese peers are precise in their work. But 72 percent complained that there were too many pointless meetings. … According to the survey, 47 percent of respondents also felt they are not given equal opportunities compared with their Japanese colleagues.
Nonetheless, the survey found that 77 percent of respondents were satisfied with their current work conditions and 88 percent wanted to keep working in Japan.
Japan’s business culture and the value it places on long hours has been in the news since the high-profile suicide of an advertising employee last October thrust the problem into the spotlight and forced Japanese employers to consider how to discourage employees from burning the midnight oil. Yet overwork is also a problem in the American workplace, where business leaders are praised for having the stamina to spend their every waking hour either doing or thinking about work.
“In the US,” Humanyze CEO Ben Waber writes at Quartz, “most discussion of karoshi (death by overwork) has assumed that overwork culture is specific to Japan. What many don’t realize is that the problem of overwork is possibly worse in the United States.” Using Humanyze’s data from “a handful of clients” in both countries, Waber makes some surprising comparisons:
At first glance, it appears that Japanese workers extend their workdays longer, working an average of 47 minutes after 6 PM versus an average of 30 minutes for American workers. This extra 17 minutes worked by Japanese workers each day would translate to about a 70-hour difference per year, almost two normal working weeks.
South Korea’s government is taking steps to encourage more women to participate in the workforce, as the country faces an impending decline in its working-age population. Hooyeon Kim and Myungshin Cho recently examined the looming problem at Bloomberg:
With the nation’s workforce projected to begin a steady decline after peaking this year, the gap between the labor force participation rate for women (53.1 percent) and men (74.5 percent), looks like a critical weak point for the economy. Newly elected President Moon Jae-in acknowledged the issue when he urged parliament to approve his plan for an extra budget that includes training for women returning to work after maternity leave and funding to help women with start-up companies. …
The drop in the female participation rate is severe for women in their thirties as they marry and have children, and too few of them return to employment after family life settles down. “There are some real difficulties,” said Chung Hyun-back, who is Moon’s pick as Gender Equality Minister. The problem for women “comes from the difficulty of maintaining work-family balance.”
South Korea’s conundrum is similar to that of Japan, where women have historically been discouraged from pursuing professional careers and where Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has launched a “womenomics” initiative to encourage businesses to hire more women and promote more of them into leadership positions. So far, however, womenomics has shown lackluster results, as Japanese work culture remains unfriendly to working women, especially those trying to balance having a career with raising a family: Long hours and presenteeism are the norm, while pregnant women are frequently discriminated against and parents face a shortage of available child care providers.
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Japan has been grappling with how to moderate its famously intense work culture after the high-profile suicide of an employee at the ad agency Dentsu thrust the country’s problems of overwork and job stress into the spotlight. To address this issue, Dentsu has begun turning off the lights at its headquarters at 10 pm and requiring employees to take at least some of their vacation days, while another Japanese ad agency is attacking the problem from a different angle: they are paying employees bigger bonuses for reducing the amount of time they spend in the office after hours, as the Japan Times reports:
During a typical day recently at Quartet Communications Co., staff began preparing to leave their Nagoya office when music started playing at 6 p.m. “I’m happy that I get a higher bonus for leaving early,” said a male employee in his 30s before quickly heading out the door. The company’s 40 employees had completely vacated the office within 30 minutes.
According to Vorkers, a company that runs a job website, the average employee at an advertising agency works 78.6 hours of overtime a month. Quartet Communications had always had little overtime, with a monthly average of 9.5 hours per employee in 2016, but the company managed to reduce the average to just 3.5 hours in January.
The secret to achieving close to zero overtime is the salary system that the company introduced with December’s bonus payment. If an employee has less overtime than the company’s average, part of the reduced overtime cost will be added to the bonus.
The Japanese phenomenon of karoshi, or death from overwork, came into focus recently after an employee at the advertising agency Dentsu committed suicide last October after working more than 105 hours of overtime in a single month. Toward the end of the year, the company’s president Tadashi Ishii announced that he was stepping down to take responsibility for the incident amid an investigation into Dentsu’s work practices, the Kyodo news agency reported:
“We deeply regret failing to prevent the overwork of our new recruit. I offer my sincere apology,” Ishii, 65, said at a news conference Wednesday evening in Tokyo. The news conference was held after the labor ministry referred Dentsu and one of its executives to prosecutors the same day on suspicion of forcing Matsuri Takahashi, who joined the company in April 2015, to work and underreport illegally long hours, leading to her suicide on Christmas Day last year.
“Although we took various countermeasures, the issue of overwork has not been improved. I will take full responsibility,” Ishii said.
The scandal at Dentsu prompted its leaders to try to modify its culture of grueling overwork. The New York Times’ Jonathan Soble enumerates some of the steps the company has taken:
Like other “Asian Tigers,” Taiwan has for decades upheld a notoriously high-pressure work culture, where long hours and unpaid overtime were common. But now, with a strong economy, unemployment under 4 percent, and the ratio of job openings to job seekers at 1.72-to-1, Taiwanese employers are facing growing demand for more work-life balance among their employees, the Associated Press’s Ralph Jennings reports:
On Dec. 6 lawmakers approved changes for the Labor Standards Act requiring companies to limit work to 40 hours a week and give full-time workers at least two of every seven days off. Hourly overtime pay will ratchet higher as extra hours accrue. “To go from 48-hour weeks to this new labor law indicates that the voices of workers have been heard,” said Huang Chien-tai, secretary of the Taipei City Confederation of Trade Unions. …
Taiwanese worked 48-hour weeks until 2000, when the standard changed to 84 hours every two weeks, often spread over six days with no overtime pay. That limited many workers to just one day off. The 84-hour scheme was scrapped in January, with workweeks capped at 40 hours that could still be spread over more than five days. …
Facing the economic realities of an aging population and a declining number of working-age citizens, Japan has been forced to rethink some long held attitudes towards its workforce. For instance, as we’ve covered before, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s “womenomics” initiative has been attempting (with some difficulty) to shift the country’s male-dominated business culture and expand the workforce by making it more inclusive of women.
Another barrier Japan faces in its workforce expansion efforts is the country’s historical reluctance to attract and retain foreign talent. Japanese companies are often not accustomed to hiring foreign workers, and the country’s immigration laws have traditionally made it difficult to do so. That mindset continues to evolve, however, as the Japan Times’ Shusuke Murai reports that the Japanese government is now thinking about making it easier for certain foreign professionals to apply for permanent residency in the country:
The current system allows highly skilled workers to apply for permanent residency after five years of living in Japan — half that of other foreign residents. The government is now considering lowering this time frame “significantly” to create one of the fastest systems to issue “green cards” to top-level professionals, a Justice Ministry official said Tuesday. …