“Job type system” not the cure-all for Japanese employee engagement
Fast Retailing (Uniqlo) has caused quite a stir in Japan by announcing that it will raise salaries by up to 40%. It claims this is in order to bring the Japanese salaries more into line with what Uniqlo is paying staff overseas, so that staff can be transferred to and from Japan HQ more easily. Japanese companies have been under pressure from the government for some time to increase salaries and this seems to some extent a typically punchy move by Fast Retailing CEO and founder Yanai-san, who has always favoured being provocative and going against the mainstream.
As any global compensation expert will tell you, it’s not quite as simple as paying people the same for the same job around the world, given the very different living standards and cost of living. Nonetheless, if Japanese companies want to introduce the “job type” system, where the compensation is defined by a job description, rather than a seniority based generalist track with no job description, which has been the tradition in Japan, they are going to have to consider some kind of parity in remuneration, to make it attractive and easy for their employees to move around the world.
As Dr Kawai Kaoru, workplace health scientist, has pointed out in a recent article for Nikkei Business, the reality of the uptake of the “job type system” has not lived up to the media hype. The same names keep coming up – Hitachi, Fujitsu, Astellas, KDDI, Mitsubishi Chemical, Shiseido and Kagome. According to Dr Kawai’s research “an overwhelming number of companies said they had no plans to introduce a job-based system.”
Those who are introducing a job type system are expecting it to re-energise their staff, improving autonomy, empowerment and engagement. Kawai cautions against seeing the job type system as being a cure-all for employee motivation. Her worry is that too much emphasis on the individual may ignore the fact that what really energises employees in their work is a sense of interdependency – that other people rely on them and they can rely on others, in order to get things done.
She points out that the five factors needed for high employee engagement (which I have seen appear in many an employee engagement survey) are
- Sufficient resources to do the job
- Discretionary power to make decisions, get things done
- Being recognised and rewarded for good work
- Fairness – being respected and able to express opinions, regardless of age, gender, nationality etc.
- Community – that staff members help each other and trust each other
Japanese companies have always been strong on the last point – Dr Kawai and I are both hoping it is not lost in the quest for a more global standard.
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