I spoke to a group of Japanese managers in London last year on the topic of my last article “I love Japan but I don’t want to work in a Japanese company” – an attitude I have heard from young Europeans who have studied Japanese at university, or worked in Japan for a couple of years on the JET scheme, or simply became fans of Japanese culture through a love of anime and computer games.
They don’t want to work for Japanese companies because they think they won’t have a fun and fulfilling career. They worry that there will be lots of overtime, bureaucracy and an oppressive hierarchy – and that Japanese companies in Europe are mostly dull, engineering sales subsidiaries.
My recommendation to the Japanese managers in the audience was to strengthen the “employee brand” in Europe, to make it more appealing to those young people. Many European veterans of Japanese companies have told me that they like working for Japanese companies because they are different, interesting, quirky, more “human” and long term in orientation rather than the standardised, numbers driven, short termist culture of many Western multinationals. Japanese companies should also offer short term secondments to Japan, so that their non-Japanese graduate hires can build networks and participate in decision-making and so develop their careers.
I realise it is tough for Japanese managers in Europe to ask their Japanese headquarters to adjust their employee brand just to appeal to overseas recruits, when Japan headquarters probably think their priority is to hire the best globally minded Japanese graduates.
So I showed them some research from Japanese recruitment company DISCO’s Caritas Research 2020 survey of Japanese students graduating from foreign and Japanese universities. It illustrates that the needs of Japanese students from foreign universities are similar to those of European students.
Whereas graduates from Japanese universities preferred a job which will provide them a secure lifestyle, would rather work in Japan rather than overseas and to work for one company for a long time, the preference of Japanese graduates of foreign universities was for a job which helped them realise their dreams, paid well, and would prefer to work overseas rather than stay in Japan.
Apart from strengthening the employee brand and offering more attractive career paths, another recommendation I made was that management training was needed for Japanese expatriates in leadership, giving feedback, managing diversity and being inclusive when managing Europeans.
I was of course hoping this would lead to more business for my company, but judging by one of the managers who approached me afterwards, it might not be for the reasons I expected. The managing director said his company was 80% Japanese, but there were big communication gaps between the younger generation and the older, between those who had graduated from foreign universities or lived abroad, and those who had mainly worked, lived and studied in Japan. Clearly Japanese companies are having to adjust to different mindsets amongst Japanese employees too.
The original version of this article was published in Japanese in the Teikoku Databank News. Pernille Rudlin’s new book “Shinrai: Japanese Corporate Integrity in a Disintegrating Europe” is available as a paperback and Kindle ebook on Amazon.
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