This week, on 2 occasions, I was confronted with a discussion around work life balance and overtime. On both occasions, the person explained that this over work mentality came from the Showa Period where everyone was supposed to work hard to rebuild the country and support economic growth
Showa terminated in 1989, 30 years ago, so 2 generations ago, but some people still live this way. Thankfully, the government, conscious of the health impact of such behavior, has been adding bank holidays along the way to make sure people would stay at home a decent amount. However, in my company, we still have colleagues who took less than 5 holidays last year.
On my second discussion, about a company I know well, the person explained to me that almost all employees overwork and when leaving at 19h00, they are called for a meeting with their manager who explains to them for over 1 hour that they should work more.
There was this particular example of a lady who had just got married and was working 1 hour extra every day. She was called several times and blamed for not working enough. Eventually, she got divorced, burnt out, quit and moved away to a secondary city. She is still mentally affected and is gradually recovering.
In this company, there are multiple employees on long term sickleave with serious condition. some of them will never be able to go back to work
In Japan, there is a word for death by overwork – karoshi. in the last 2 years, companies like Panasonic or NHK have been called out for their work environment. I also heard stories of union visiting major Japanese corporations and forbidding over time with immediate effect, guess what. the productivity rose in the 1st 3 months, sickleave decreased, the company became attractive to employees and new graduates and they saved money on utilities bills for their office buildings but turning off lights and energy at 19h00!
The government even created a “Blacklist” of companies who are still encouraging long working hours etc and new graduates have a list of companies that they should NOT consider when joining the workforce.
It is not all that easy. I recall that in a company where I have many friends, they told me that some branches make sure they do not report overtime and forbid the co-workers to report. they also declare days off and holidays when they actually come to work. this in order to look good and avoid meetings and discussions! In Japan, because of lifetime employment, many people are trapped in the system. The concept of paying holidays does not exist so that the people who change company do not get their untaken holidays paid when they leave, now that turnover exists and grows, that the new generation does not see switching employment as a challenge, this will also need to be fixed.
Last year, a friends’daughter explained to me that she could not grow abroad for a year after her studies even she badly wanted to because her only option to enter the workforce was to go via the new graduates cycle otherwise she would be perceived as a rebel when she would come back, it would then be difficult to find a job, she would most probably end temping or at a lower salary with much less opportunity for growth. Put yourself in those shoes with your western mentality!! unbelievable. It took a while to make her see the other side of the coin, what if she would gain experience that companies would buy, what if she would not come back and grow a career elsewhere, what if many other young graduates do like her, with the lack of resources in Japan, what if she would come back and received offers to choose from in 5 years time.
This thing of the past will take a while to change BUT I see the new generation very differently, they definitely dont accept this. As long as their directors are not Showa type, they dare to challenge, they dare to balancing their life.
Step by step – a cultural shift will happen, we are nearly at the end of Heisei, gone are the Showa days, I am hoping the new period we will soon enter will reflect and encourage this.