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Aging low-ranking employees fear they can't survive restructuring

14 Comments

Never have Japanese workers felt so expendable.

The 40s and 50s were the peak years of a working person’s life. You’d start with a company fresh out of school and rise slowly but predictably through the ranks, taking on more and more responsibility, drawing better and better pay, retiring at last around 60 with a comfortable nest egg and agreeable memories of a fulfilling and productive life.

The faster the future rushes in on us, the sharper the nostalgia for a more predictable, more manageable past. Spa! (Feb 23 – March 2) polls 3,000 corporate employees aged 40-59 and finds 69.1 percent fearing “restructuring,” the ubiquitous euphemism for being laid off. That’s the worst-case scenario but not the only bad one. Another is professional and financial stagnation – salaries more likely to fall than rise, promotion a lost hope.

The coronavirus pandemic is accelerating trends that began a generation ago with the bursting of the economic bubble that characterized the 1970s and ’80s. In those heady days, there was room for everyone, space at the top for many. Promotion and pay raises were based on seniority; now, supposedly, on merit, productivity. It’s less kind, and not at all gentle. It can’t be. The corporate paternalism of former times – the employee a sort of child to the company-father – depended on limitless growth. In pinched times like these it’s an unaffordable luxury. When survival depends on cost-cutting, who bears the brunt? The workforce, of course.

“Joji Yoshioka” (a pseudonym, like all the names in this story), is a 46-year-old mid-level IT executive. Financially, he’s doing fine, earning 8 million yen a year. His company creates programs that facilitate teleworking. They are much in demand as remote work spreads. What’s the trouble, then? A heightened form of middle-management blues. “My boss ups my quotas; I must increase my subordinates’ quotas,” he tells Spa!. His boss is high enough up to merely give orders. Yoshioka, with a less intimidating title, must manage his five subordinates and also set the example; he must work harder than they; he must lead and follow simultaneously. He fears the strain is killing him – literally. “I feel I’m on the verge of karoshi (death from overwork),” he says.

“Tetsuya Wakao” would probably envy him. Short of collapse, Yoshioka is at least secure – at least seems so. Wakao, 43, is in the restaurant business. That’s the sector hardest hit by coronavirus depredation. Until very recently he was ”area manager” for a restaurant chain, earning, like Yoshioka, 8 million a year. Then came November’s “third wave” of infections. A call came from head office. Wakao was informed of his new title – no longer “area manager” but “expert chef.” The English term was not immediately comprehensible. When he took it in, he was puzzled – he certainly was not what it implied – but soon got the idea. It meant, to all intents and purposes, a shift from fulltime status to part-time, with salary cut to match. He now earns 6 million a year.

What can he do? Find another job? At his age? His kids are in elementary school. “I have no choice,” he says, “but to cling to my company. At first I told myself, ‘The pandemic will pass, things will settle down’ – but they’re already inviting applications for early retirement.” He reads the writing on the wall, and hopes his head is not slated for the block.

“Masataka Aoki,” 39, is a low-ranking executive with a home appliance maker. He earns 5.5 million yen a year. He was a valued worker, his boss liked him, promotion was in the offing; he was happy and confident. Can happiness and confidence survive a pandemic? Aoki is increasingly doubtful. His subordinates are all home teleworking. Teleworking breeds independence; independent workers need less supervision; that means fewer managers. The post he’d been looking forward to rising to was one of three potential openings. These have been cut to one; he’s one of several candidates, and not, he says, the likeliest one – at least one other has a better sales record. “It’s become like a game of musical chairs,” he tells Spa!. As he sees it, the former competition for promotion has become an even more feral competition for mere survival – and if that happens, he says, “I think I’ll want to die.”

© Japan Today

©2021 GPlusMedia Inc.

14 Comments
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I think its probably worse than the story suggests. Despite mentioning a survey of "3,000 corporate employees aged 40-59", the ones it talks to are 46, 43, and 39. Workers in their fifties are likely to have kids in college, when the cost of raising children really ramps up.

9 ( +9 / -0 )

Welcome to the gig economy of techno-serfdom!

Anecdotally, in my neighborhood in central Tokyo I have seen 60-ish appearing Caucasians doing UberEats deliveries.

7 ( +7 / -0 )

Work is the curse of the drinking classes. Work is a four letter word. All work and no play...

Seriously, retiring at 60. Now that would be a dream.

Anecdotally, in my neighborhood in central Tokyo I have seen 60-ish appearing Caucasians doing UberEats deliveries.

No shame in that. A job is a job and a necessity for those of us who need to eat and shelter. Although, it is a shame that people can put in the hours and get a measly wage for all their effort.

Workers of the world unite!

7 ( +8 / -1 )

Outlaw dispatch. 44% of workers in Japan are now dispatch. The neoliberal policies of deregulation and low wages have fostered a shift in wealth to the top 1%. Homelessness, welfare. Raise the minimum wage.

These workers interviewed are super well off compared to the dispatch and minimum wage workers.

5 ( +6 / -1 )

No shame in that. A job is a job and a necessity for those of us who need to eat and shelter. Although, it is a shame that people can put in the hours and get a measly wage for all their effort.

Workers of the world unite!

We should reserve our shaming for the parasites draining wealth upwards. The ingenuity of the working man is something to behold.

5 ( +5 / -0 )

From my experience, mid-level managers, 40s-50s years old get it quite rough. They have to supervise and absorb all the problems from below, while getting lots of pressure from the higher management. Both the mental stress and the work load can drive one insane. Then they usually have a family and school-age children, possibly a loan on the house and a wife who doesn't work but takes over the family finances, so they have a lot of stress at home as well. Add to this middle-life crisis, various health issues, etc.

5 ( +5 / -0 )

I can understand the situation is bad for the people on the article, but personal friends that have to survive with 3 mil a year and huge stress because their jobs are not permanent from the beginning puts another perspective on it.

4 ( +4 / -0 )

Jobs that can be done with low skilled labor are at risk, especially in a fast changing world. Jobs that require a skill set, such as electrician, plumber, mechanic, and air conditioning technician, are still in high demand. I don't know how it is in Japan, but in America most young people do not want to do jobs that require them to use their hands, even if those jobs pay well and come with benefits and job security.

3 ( +5 / -2 )

I would never dream of getting married and having kids in Japan unless I earned a steady 10 million yen per year, in a job not likely to ever disappear, like a doctor. Which is why I will never marry or have kids!

3 ( +3 / -0 )

I saw a 52 yo guy self destruct last year. He was let go with a 3 year severance.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

From my experience, mid-level managers, 40s-50s years old get it quite rough. They have to supervise and absorb all the problems from below, while getting lots of pressure from the higher management. Both the mental stress and the work load can drive one insane. Then they usually have a family and school-age children, possibly a loan on the house and a wife who doesn't work but takes over the family finances, so they have a lot of stress at home as well. Add to this middle-life crisis, various health issues, etc.

Right on. And the same in other countries I imagine.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

I thought the average salaryman made ¥5,000,000 per year.

These guys for their young ages seem well off. I am sure their wives squirreled away most of the take home pay.

1 ( +2 / -1 )

Being restructured is something that could happen to anyone at any time, and I am conscious of it given it has happened to me in the past. I got 6 months severance, and took a holiday, moved back home and then started a new job 3 months later.

Some key things I have done.

1) Build a contingency fund. This means if I have 6 months between jobs, I can still live relatively normally, pay the mortgage, school fees and other bills

2) Have a secondary income that can be ramped up if needs be. I do some online work which I normally do 10 hours a week on and I could easily bump up these hours if I needed to.

3) Pay down my mortgage quicker than I am required to. This means that in a worst case scenario, I can reduce the payments down to free up cashflow.

4) Continue to work on my skills. Don't stand still professionally.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

I am so happy to not be working anymore.

0 ( +1 / -1 )

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