It has been five years since the “work style reforms” of the Shinzo Abe Cabinet of 2016 were introduced, supposedly making it easier for Japanese employees to have diverse and flexible work styles. The pandemic has given the reforms a further push, but, as the Nikkei Business magazine asks, have these reforms really had the expected positive impact on retention rates?
The Nikkei asked three masked recruitment agents (masked to conceal their identity rather than for health reasons we assume) for their impressions so far and it seems that because the underlying problem of employee engagement has not been addressed, if anything the reforms have accelerated the rate at which people are leaving their jobs.
Agent A : Through work style reforms, companies have complied with the new laws by reducing overtime hours and encouraging the use of paid leave. Many people chose larger, stable companies because they were more likely to comply with the requirements to reduce overtime work.
But at the same time, the pandemic meant that companies started looking more seriously at automation and the use of AI so manufacturers, many of whom who were previously seen as being in the large and stable category, became a riskier bet as they started to restructure and did not seem to be growing as positively as before.
“When a young person who wants to work more and develop faster is told to “go home at 6 pm”, he or she may feel that “I want to work more but I am being constrained.” There are an increasing number of young people who are daring to commit to a growth environment, such as changing jobs from major companies to new ventures and startups. ”
Agent B : During the pandemic, the reason for changing jobs switched from focusing on workplace comfort to focusing on personal goals. According to a survey by Doda, a job switching service, the number one reason for changing jobs from January to March 2020 before the declaration of emergency [in Japan] was “because the atmosphere in the company is bad”, but after the declaration of emergency during the period of April to August 2020, it changed to “Because the salary is low and no salary increase can be expected.” Also of note was that “I want to improve my skills” jumped from 6th place before the state of emergency to 2nd place.
Weak black companies
Companies which are easy to work in but have no growth are called “Yuru Black” in Japan. Employees in Yuru Black companies have a sense of crisis about whether they are growing and developing as a person. “Black companies” was the name given to companies where there was too much overtime. “Yuru” means weak, so these are “weak black” companies where there is no overtime, but also no challenge.
B : Because the future outlook has become uncertain under Corona, many people are switching jobs from major companies in order to feel like they were stepping up to a challenge. There was a woman in her late twenties who changed jobs because the company’s brand power was too strong and she wanted to go to a place where she could use her skills more, even though she was in a high flier role in marketing for a major consumer goods manufacturer. A man in his twenties, who entered a company with the highest annual income in Japan in the electrical industry, where the company had a systematic training system, felt it was too slow in having him be involved in actual work and therefore furthering his own development. So he moved to a startup.
Agent C: Most people in their 20s and 30s change jobs in search of reward and growth. The main reasons for changing jobs are that they are not evaluated correctly, that they want more chances to use their own judgement, and that they want to do an important job in the metropolitan area. Recently, many people in finance and insurance are flowing into the IT industry.
Personally, I feel that “a lack of yarigai (rewarding work)” has been increasing mainly amongst people in their 20s and 30s since about 10 years ago. There are various definitions of rewarding work, but the first is whether the work content and compensation are balanced. In other words, whether you are getting paid for your skills, growth, and using your own judgement. Some people find it rewarding just to have a high annual income, such as insurance sales, but that is a minority. Some people choose a company that has a performance-based compensation system such as an annual salary system or a job type system (clear job descriptions). If people are only paid more because they do overtime, then the incentive to work productively and efficiently is lost.
A : Although the number is not large, the switch from major companies to venture companies is becoming apparent in some groups with good educational background and high needs for personal growth. When you are in your the 20s, there are fewer life events such as child-rearing and long-term care, so we recommend choosing a new job that emphasizes the sense of growth.
A : As the lifetime employment system collapses, more and more people are thinking that they must have more transferable skills in the long run. In the past, many people chose their place to work because of the short overtime hours and the number of holidays, but more and more people want to use their own judgement and their brains.
B : The number of people who registered for a job switching service immediately after joining the company seems to have increased more than 20 times compared to 10 years ago.
C : The number of positions for trainee engineers is increasing, and some people from completely different industries want to become IT engineers. There are also intermediary companies that train engineers and dispatch them to each company.
B : Even at our company, the number of people who are pursuing skills is increasing, such as young people who have been doing face-to-face sales have changed to be trainee engineers. Recently, during job change consultations, I sometimes get a person saying “I’m thinking of getting a qualification”, but because of the pandemic there is more need for immediately applicable skills, so getting a qualification does not immediately lead to a job.
Recently, there is an option not only to change jobs but also to have a side job. In the case of a man in his late twenties at a major electronics manufacturer, he was in charge of new business development overseas, but he was not rewarded because the decision-making was so slow, and he gained experience by doing a side job. Since the number of companies that permit it has increased, it is an option to do a side job while having a solid foundation of a main job.
Motivation to work
A : With regard to the provision of growth opportunities, efforts are polarized. IT / web companies are advancing, andin some companies, such as CyberAgent, you can be a president from a young age or get another chance even if you fail. On the other hand, it seems that the manufacturing industry, retail industry, and infrastructure system are lagging behind as a whole, but among them, there are companies such as Aeon and Seven-Eleven Japan that are promoting digital transformation (DX) in retail as well. On the manufacturer side as well, businesses are being reorganized in response to the IoT, finding ways to reduce the number of employees who are just coattail hanging, making the P&L of each department more visible, and creating mechanisms that can properly evaluate whether the business is successful.
A : The theory of “hygiene and motivational factors” by American psychologist Frederick Herzberg is key. First of all, it is important to promote healthy work style reforms so that people can live a healthy life. Keeping the ease of working within the bounds of common sense has the effect of reducing employee dissatisfaction. Certain regulations make sense in terms of reducing overtime hours, which has been difficult to reduce without regulation.
On the other hand, “motivation to work” is important in terms of how much employees can demonstrate their abilities. Productivity does not increase just by focusing on workability. It is important to give employees discretion and responsibility and evaluate them appropriately. Long working hours and no discretion are the most stressful, but long working hours and greater discretion can be less stressful. I feel that discretion, the freedom to use your own judgement, will be one of the keys to working styles in the future. Even within the work style reforms,it may be necessary to shift the axis to “motivation to work”.
I’ve translated the above fairly literally from the Japanese, which is why some of it may sound a little unnatural. But one thing that struck me, even allowing for the rather different ways that opinions are expressed in a more abstract way, is how the role of the manager in both workability and improving team motivation is not directly addressed. If this article had been written in the Western media, there would be much more focus on what you as an individual manager can do. Instead the assumption here seems to be that this is something the company as a whole has to address, in order to avoid being a “weak black” company.
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