Japanese salarymen are envied around the world – as Junko Okamoto, former Yomiuri journalist and Dentsu consultant and now CEO of Glocomm says – for not being fired no matter what they do or how little they do. So you would think this means they have a high degree of engagement towards their employers. But actually, no matter what survey you look at, Japanese tend to come lowest in terms of engagement and trust.
For example – in Gallup’s 20011-2012 global survey of 142 countries and 20,000 people:
- Japan – 7% engaged, 69% not engaged, 24% actively disengaged
- UK 17% engaged, 57% not engaged, 26% actively disengaged
- France 9% engaged, 65% not engaged, 25% actively disengaged
- Germany 15% engaged, 61% not engaged, 24% actively disengaged
- USA 30% engaged, 52% not engaged, 18% actively disengaged
Japan’s percentages are not far off China, so maybe it’s an “Asian” thing, you might think. But another survey by Aon Hewitt looking just at Asia Pacific levels of engagement found that Japan – at 33% actively disengaged – had the lowest engagement score.
As Okamoto points out, there is no direct translation of “engagement” in Japanese and also, the Japanese may have a tendency to be understated and modest in such surveys. However, if the wording is framed differently, there is still seems to be a problem. Edelman issues a world trust survey every year of 28 countries, including the question of whether people trust their own company. Japan comes bottom on 40%, compared to 64% for the US, 57% for the UK, 29% for China, 83% for India – even lower than Russia on 48%.
There are many reasons you could list up for Japanese salarymen’s disengagement – and Okamoto does so:
- Long working hours
- Low or even decreasing take home pay
- Rigid corporate culture – based on precedent, demerit/points off systems, emphasis on sheer doggedness
- Seniority based promotion
- Inappropriate assignment of people
- Sexual harassment, power harassment, maternity harassment
- Rigid compensation and HR systems (egalitarian to the point of unfairness or too strictly perfomance based)
Okamoto adds “friends foreign and Japanese who work for foreign companies often point out that Japanese companies force you to travel economy class even if you’re very senior, which would be unthinkable in their companies, or that foreign companies will incentivise their best people to stay, with money or motivational schemes.”
Employees of Japanese companies don’t understand what is being rewarded. They point to those who are slacking off and yet are paid the same. But even the slackers are unhappy, because they feel like the company is not making the best use of them. Japanese people seem to think that work should be a penance and that you become happy by working hard. Okamoto cites various Western researchers who say that you should first find out what makes you happy, and then you will succeed.
Okamoto’s conclusion, as is mine, is that Japanese companies are bad at communicating – to their staff as well as to the outside world. “Being hired by a Japanese company is like getting married. The company is your family or your home. And although the divorce rate has risen in Japan recently, it’s still lower than the USA. In Japan the view is that even if you hate the other person or don’t love them any more, there is a shared fate. However in the USA you either get a divorce or if you don’t want to get a divorce you put more effort in with gifts and words of love… Japanese companies and their employees are like a married couple who have forgotten each other’s good points and become stale.”
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