Chipping away at the three treasures of Japanese HR
Several Japanese blue chip companies have announced some quite radical changes to their HR systems, just in time for the new Reiwa era. The so called three treasures of lifetime employment, seniority based pay and a company union have been looking a little tarnished for some years now. They seem a legacy not even of the Heisei era but of the post war Showa era of a booming economy and a need to retain a young workforce.
Hitachi had shown the way four years ago (as described in our blog post at the time), abolishing seniority based pay for its managers and replacing it with pay based on job roles. They have made further waves recently with the announcement of the first ever Hitachi subsidiary President to be in their forties. The newly formed Hitachi Global Life Solutions will be led by Jun Taniguchi, born in 1972.
Hitachi claim that this new system is needed for the company to be truly global and able to appoint and transfer managers around the world, regardless of where they were recruited. Beer and soft drink manufacturer Asahi Group Holdings has also been shifting to global standards. Around half their employees are non-Japanese, as a result of their acquisitions of European brands such as Peroni, Grolsch and Fullers. They have said their Presidents and CEOs will be evaluated on return on equity from now on, and given the boot if it is not maintained above 13%.
Japanese megabank MUFG says it will reduce new hires in Japan by 45% to 530 next spring, and will cut the 6000 employees in its Tokyo headquarters by half. Not all Japanese HR traditions are being thrown out of the window, however, as the surplus 3000 will not be made redundant, but rather redeployed to sales functions or sent overseas to areas where MUFG is expanding like the USA and Asia (but not it seems, Europe). MUFG is automating the functions that these staff performed, as well as cutting many of its retail branches in Japan. It will instead be beefing up its overseas compliance and digital payment systems divisions.
Some Japanese politicians and commentators have said that the “rei” of Reiwa sounds rather cold, as it can sometimes mean “order” or “command”. It also, when combined with the radical for water, becomes a character meaning chilly or freezing. It certainly feels like some icy winds will be blasting through Japanese cosy HR traditions in the new era.
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