Seven in ten British employers have been having difficulties in filling vacancies, and 40% say it has become harder over the past year to find the staff they need, according to a 2018 survey of 1000 companies by the Chartered Institute of Personnel Development and Adecco, a staffing company.
The situation has been exacerbated by Brexit. The numbers of workers born abroad in Britain fell by 58,000 year on year, whereas it had increased 263,000 over the previous 12-month period. This was mainly due to a drop in the number of workers coming to the UK from the EU.
It’s not just a UK problem, however. According to a JETRO survey at the end of 2017, “securing human resources” was the number one operational challenge for Japanese companies in Europe. This includes Germany, the Netherlands and even Central and Eastern European countries such as Hungary and the Czech Republic.
So how can Japanese companies compete with local employers chasing the same skilled workforce?
I like to use a model developed by Fons Trompenaars and Charles Hampden-Turner to explain to Japanese companies where they can win as an employee brand. It’s a matrix, based on degree of hierarchy and degree of task versus relationship orientation, resulting in four corporate cultures – the Guided Missile, The Eiffel Tower, the Incubator and the Family.
Guided Missiles are typical American, sales-oriented organisations where the employees are motivated by targets, achievement and reward.
The Eiffel Tower organisation is more hierarchical, focused on structure. People are motivated by their status in the organisational hierarchy and promises of promotion.
Many people in Europe are used to the Eiffel Tower style of company and when they join a Japanese company, they are concerned by the lack of defined paths to progress their career and also an absence of clear, strategic direction.
Other Europeans, particularly in the R&D, creative, IT, design engineering sectors, are more used to the Incubator type of company. Here the main motivation is not money or status, but rather developing and using one’s skills to innovate.
Most Japanese companies belong to the Family style company. Employees want to contribute to the longevity and good reputation of the family, as a respected family member. It is difficult for Family style companies to motivate employees with money or status, as these are dependent on seniority, rather than performance.
Japanese companies in Europe have a reputation for good benefits, but only average pay. There is also a sense that there is a limit to how far you can be promoted if you are not Japanese, in other words, a family member.
Japanese companies are appealing to Europeans because they are “different” and “interesting” and also because they are seen as good corporate citizens. But Europeans also need to be made to feel it is possible to become a family member, by helping them understand the company’s vision and values – including through secondments to Japan headquarters – if you want to retain them.
Riding the Waves of Culture: Understanding Cultural Diversity in Business, Fons Trompenaars & Charles Hampden Turner, (Nicholas Brearley: 2003), 159
The original version of this article can be found in “Shinrai: Japanese Corporate Integrity in a Disintegrating Europe” available as a paperback and Kindle ebook on Amazon.
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