You’ve heard of “black companies” – they’re in the news a lot lately. What of “white companies”? They, too, exist, reports Weekly Playboy (Oct 23).
Burakku kigyo (black companies) are so called for the black ways they treat their employees – underpaying them, overworking them, demanding absolute commitment from them and giving nothing in return except a job whose only merit is that it’s better than no job. Black companies are a key factor in the karoshi (death from overwork) phenomenon, occurring at a rate nationwide of some 190 episodes a year.
Howaito kigyo (white companies) are, naturally, the opposite of black ones. The happiness of their employees is among their chief concerns – not at the expense of profits but, on the contrary, at least partly in the interest of profits, on the theory that happy employees make better workers.
Hosei University economist Koji Sakamoto has been studying white companies for 48 years, and his list of them runs to some 8,000 names. “Not one of them,” he says, debunking the economic argument against such commitment to human wellbeing, “has gone bankrupt.”
His studies focus not on sales or technological innovation, but on whether a company recognizes the protection of “lives and livelihoods” as a priority. Whose lives and livelihoods? Employees’ and their families’, suppliers’, clients’, the local community’s and stockholders’. Weekly Playboy is struck by the order of Sakamoto’s recitation. Employees come first? “It’s simple,” says Sakamoto. “Employees who are not respected by their employers will be less than zealous in serving customers. And suppliers under pressure to keep costs down will pressure their employees, to the detriment of the quality of the product being supplied.
He cites bag maker Kyowa Co as a model white company: “Zero overtime, zero worker accidents, zero layoffs even in tight times or seasons. Result: Kyowa is a leader in its field, with a reputation for quality that resonates with customers, and for fair treatment which attracts the best job applicants.
His contrasting example is the parcel delivery industry – not one company in particular but all in general. The field is crowded, competition is fierce, companies vie with each other to offer prompter and prompter deliveries at all hours of the day and night, with the result that employees are worked to exhaustion, causing mistakes and a deterioration of service.
Ina Food Industry Co Ltd, based in Nagano Prefecture, is another of Sakamoto’s positive examples. In busy seasons it will actually turn down orders rather than force its employees into overtime. Counterproductive short-term, advantageous long-term. Part of its high reputation rests on its community consciousness, symbolized by a pedestrian bridge it put up across a public road.
“Genuinely good companies don’t impose impossible burdens on their employees,” Sakamoto summarizes. They limit overtime to the bare minimum and eschew that bane of the existence of most company employees: quotas. They harass without motivating, he says. “Without quotas employees motivate themselves.”
He cites Mito, Ibaragi Prefecture-based home electronics retailer K’s Denki for its “deeply-rooted” tradition of “putting employees first.” No one there works under pressure of quotas, and its motto is “Gambaranai management.” “Gambaranai” is the negative form of the verb most Japanese companies are forever urging on their staffs: “Gambaru,” meaning to go all out. It’s pushed so hard as a virtue it’s become a vice. Gambaru a little less, say K’s, and Sakamoto, and Sakamoto’s 8,000 white companies. It pays in the long run.© Japan Today