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Bosses uptight over newbies' ignorance of phone protocol

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"Answer the damn thing!" The 35-year old staff member of an IT company barks in frustration at a newly hired freshman who was blithely ignoring the ringing telephone between their desks.

"It couldn't have been for me," the newcomer shrugs. "Shouldn't the person who answers the phone be someone who would understand what the caller wants?"

"Answering phone calls is what you new guys are supposed to do!" the older man snaps.

Still refusing to knuckle under, the junior replies, "If it's nothing to do with our jobs, why should we be expected to answer?"

It might seem to be flying in the face of simple common sense. Nikkan Gendai (Feb 2) reports that growing numbers of new company hirees are provoking ire among seniors by their refusal to volunteer for the most mundane of office tasks -- picking up a ringing telephone. And by grating on the nerves of those in charge, the mood in offices is turning increasingly tense.

According to a survey of businesses conducted by the news and information portal goo, failure by new staff to answer the telephone was the third most frequent source of annoyance, after unexplained absences from work and taking overextended daytime breaks.

Perhaps because of the wide dissemination of cell phones, the members of Japan's younger generation tend to regard the telephone as an item of personal use -- like a toothbrush -- and are reluctant to respond to an unknown caller.

This is the same generation that loves sending and receiving mail messages, but quivers in terror of chance face-to-face encounters with adult strangers.

"As a generation imbued with the demerit system, they are inherently terrified of failure," explains Akihiko Nishiyama, professor of business management at Tokyo Jogakkan College.

"If they were somehow fumble the call, they worry 'I'll be penalized' or 'I'll be looked down upon by others,' so they go to practically any length to avoid picking up the receiver. If a caller were to confront them with a work-related question, they haven't a clue how to respond. They mentally block out the call."

The issue is a crucial one, because proper telephone manners are not merely evidence of the speaker's social maturity, but in the eyes of customers reflect on the company as a whole.

The solution to this impasse, Nikkan Gendai advises, is twofold: First, new staff members must be made to understand that answering the phone is their duty, and failure to perform it will lower their assessment.

Professor Nishiyama adds that employers need to instill new staff with the awareness that the telephone represents a source of company income.

"If the worker is made to understand that answering the telephone contributes to the company's bottom line, that should dispel any false notions that 'It's nothing to do with my job,'" Nishiyama points out.

And if that doesn't work? Some aggravated supervisors might feel tempted to whack some common sense into their subordinates' heads the old-fashioned way.

A sidebar story notes that the 39.77 million registered NTT land line subscribers (as of September 2009) were down 40 percent from the peak in 1993. The keitai-savvy members of the young generation, it seems, have become increasingly unfamiliar with "old-style" telephones.

© Japan Today

©2019 GPlusMedia Inc.

55 Comments
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What kind of nutless pussies are 'managing' these offices in Japan? Try the U.S. work approach: if these young dolts still refuse to answer the phone after a couple warnings, you roll out out, "It's just not working out for you here. I'll get you a box (for your things)."

"sayonara", social kills-lacking Kenji....

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The difference being, of course, that in the U.S. (I don't know about other countries), phones are typically assigned to a specific desk/person (each person having their own extension, and answering only their own calls), while in Japan at most companies (while individual direct numbers are more common than they used to be), it's not unusual to have phones assigned to a group of desks or section, such that everyone has to act as a switchboard, picking up the phone for everyone in that section. Still, given that this is the norm, there's no excuse for not learning one's job, even if it involves answering the phone for other people.

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unfamiliar is not the word that best fits their skills with "real telephones" ... STUPID MORON says it so much better. I agree with using the US approach to office leadership "answer the friggin phone or you'll be in the ER having it removed from your a$$!"

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this article hit the trend right on the head. Japanese work ethic is going down the toilet, and old-school bosses don't have the balls to do anything about it.

This is a continuing sign of a demographic change that i have been observing. As more and more of these freeters and losers join Japan Inc., they will rot Japanese corporate culture to the core.

As much as people may look to China, they too need a lot of help in this area. However, in their case, it's the older workforce with the state-owned firm background that has no ambition. Younger people in China are more likely to see the company as a money-making operation.

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"quivers in terror of chance face-to-face encounters with adult strangers."

So work is not so much fun anymore.... Why do people still want to work anyway?

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The difference being, of course, that in the U.S. (I don't know about other countries), phones are typically assigned to a specific desk/person

Forget differences between countries. In ANY country, when the senior manager tells the newbie (repeatedly) to answer the phone when it rings and they don't, you get rid of them. If the newbie can't accept direction from their boss, they need to look for another job. I am surprised this is a problem in Japan, of all places: ignoring one's senpai and getting away with it and giving some backtalk to boot. Next!

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This article makes me even more depressed about Japan's future. If the new hires are that scared of even answering a phone because of the potential to receive "demerits", then how in the world will the out-of-the-box thinking that Japan needs to remain globally competitive ever happen? Japan can only compete by constantly bringing new/breakthrough ideas to market. Yet the next generation of managers pees its pants over simply answering a phone. Scary.

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So work is not so much fun anymore.... Why do people still want to work anyway?

Feed their families, perhaps?

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The last comment about normal phones is simply STUPID As for the problems with the young, it all started with the old. Acting like you are working, while you are just surfing porn, drinking with friends, etc. while avoiding home responsibilities is exactly what you get out of these young, weak minded youth who have learned to do no more than the video training session says.

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way to go newbies..dont take their crap!

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Seems like "the boss" didn't explain the job correctly.

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they are inherently terrified of failure

Little do they know they already are failures. Failures and spoiled losers who've cruised through the education system and have had no proper upbringing and no respect for authority. Japan's massive apathy and do-nothing-about-it attitude has done a fantastic job of raising these kinds of people.

However companies can't just fire people, because who will replace them? More losers and more morons who don't have a clue about anything, and who will talk-back when told what to do.

“If it’s nothing to do with our jobs, why should we be expected to answer?”

Sounds like the anthem of them American worker: "It's not in my job description.

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And before anyone screams at me - I worked in the US, I know how it is.

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the freshman's attitude in this story was wrong. But I still remember my first week working in a company(might I add, a japanese company). The fear of saying something wrong made it really hard to pick up that phone. There will always be a few who s not afraid to pick up the phone on the first of work, but rest of the majority of the freshmen are not ready yet. Cut the freshmen a little slack, they all will eventually pick up the phone.

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I wish Japan was allowed to fire these kids. It might actually turn this country around. Blame the parents, blame the systme, blame the voters for allowing their education system to be crap.

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The system is inherently wrong! Something in this country has to change. Unfortunately no-one is willing to try, due to the myopic personality of most Japanese and the incesent beuracracy. They wonder why the economy has been suffering for over twenty years. This is a perfect example.

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Its not necessarily the newbies fault, you cant change years of certain ways of upbringing. Many japanese are not taught to think outside the box. To be analagous they remind me of the "Borg" in star treck "collective thinking, lack of individuality yet they dont integrate all aspects of other cultures. I wish them all the best and hope they change their way of thinking.

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I think they rerun the same article every 3 months or so.....old people never get tired of complaining about younger workers!!

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I have an interesting story. In a completely Japanese company with me being the only foreigner, I was always amazed at how nobody gets up from their seat for meetings etc. unless the boss gets up first.

One day a drinking party was planned. I got up and waited at the exit. Everyone else waited for the boss to get up and of course the boss approached me before anyone else because he got up first. I said to him "Isn't that funny how everyone waits for you to get up first?" He replied "I know, pathetic isn't it. Maybe they think they get a bigger bonus that way... idiots."

Love it.

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Much to do about nothing.

If the worker isn't doing their job, follow the course of disciplinary procedures until they are fired. Then hire someone else who will do their job.

If the worker isn't happy with their job, quit. Then find a job you are happy with.

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Really, it's the boss's fault for not leading with authority. You need to make clear that phone answering is one of your duties and by doing so, you will learn how to react to clients and learn the business as well. It's menial, but it's training on the job and don't forget the boss did it when he first joined.

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Maybe it's better to just let the phones keep ringing. Think how upset a calling customer will be if some silly young newbie takes the call and asks, "Ima, doko"?

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ACD and calling trees. Problem fixed. If you're too cheap, get asterisk.

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How about some real training?? Sure it may seem ridiculous to have to train newbies to answer the phone, but I think the newbies KNOW their phone skills aren't what the company wants of them, and that if they say something stupid, they KNOW that they'll be ridiculed and cause a lot of harm to the company. Make it clear what should be said and how, and then they'll take the calls. Its way too easy in Japan to act as you think is right, and then be reprimanded for being wrong in someone else's eyes. A general common understanding needs to be spelled out, not just "silently shared".

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A bizarre story no matter how you look at it. Most American companies would be satisfied with an employee saying, "Good (morning or whatever), such-and-such company, may I help you?" and "Certainly, one moment, please." Either the Japanese-language versions of those two expressions is impossible to grasp upon being given 0.5 seconds to think about them, or there are employees out there with some serious issues.

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as a mother and a teacher i know that screaming and bullying get you nowhere.

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Me: "Answering phone calls is what you new guys are supposed to do!"

Young'un: "If it’s nothing to do with our jobs, why should we be expected to answer?"

Me: "You have 30 minutes to clear your desk and vacate the premises. I wish you all the best in the future."

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One day a drinking party was planned. I got up and waited at the exit. Everyone else waited for the boss to get up and of course the boss approached me before anyone else because he got up first. I said to him "Isn't that funny how everyone waits for you to get up first?" He replied "I know, pathetic isn't it. Maybe they think they get a bigger bonus that way... idiots." Love it.

Comedy gold!

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To be analagous they remind me of the "Borg" in star treck "collective thinking, lack of individuality yet they dont integrate all aspects of other cultures.

Thank you. "The Borg" is an excellent addition to my witty Japanese repartee.

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Isn't this what receptionists are for?

The younger generation of workers are rebellious and do not want to conform to their bosses' or to society's expectations. These bosses are not used to people disobeying them so they have no idea how to handle it.

Also the whole work system is kinda weird. New employees are hired just to do some general type of work. I doubt new employees really know what they are supposed to be doing.

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I used to work at a Real-Estate company (not in Japan). After 7/11 our staff was reduces and most of the secretaries were fired, so that we had to write down reports and answer the phone ourselves. Since we didn't have training for HR, we were given instructions at a simple meeting. The company had a structure like this: 1)Greeting, 2)Name of the company, 3)special phrase with the motto of the company, 4)department, 5)identify yourself by name and title, 6)how may I help you? It seems inane, but we had to either memorize it or read it from a card so we wouldn't miss anything. It was office protocol. Surely Japanese companies do have the same thing; the article seems to suggest the new employee hadn't been told the official protocol or else, he would have known he was supposed to answer the phone.

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Omg: is now PhD degree needed in order to know how to answer the phone?

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Some aggravated supervisors might feel tempted to whack some common sense into their subordinates’ heads the old-fashioned way.

Wonderful! Finally some hand-on solution that wacks the new generation out of their grass-eater dreams and makes real men out of them.

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you may have some individual, who doesn't learn how to do his job, but when it becomes common that new employees don't work as expected, it highlights nothing else than inept management.

This is not the first article bashing the young generation. Maybe my company is located on another star, but my experience with the young generation is just the opposite of what these articles describe: they are the ones who are much more able to think out of the box, understand customer requirements and respond flexibly. Much more effective to work with.

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yeah economically speaking too, there was never a better time for Japan to take its head out of the sand.

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there may never be a better time

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If newbies act like these, Japanese firms should reject formal employment after their trial period which might be 2-3 months. It must be the last chance to fire such a stupid ones.

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It must be the last chance to fire such a stupid ones. Why would it be the last chance???

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Can't they be fired? What's a big deal of answering a call, especiaaly if it is a businees line. I can understand someone not answering a cll made to their home phones or mobile telepdohe..How bizzare!!!!

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It is very difficult for companies in Japan to fire an employee when they are full time and permanent. Employment laws heavily favour the employee. Thats why you cannot fire someone for not doing their job properly. I used to work in an office of mostly japanese staff and their fear of answering the phone when the receptionist was away was comical.

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its a symptom of an entire generation (and counting) grown up on video games, chat rooms, phone texting...can the average 21yr old japanese even have a conversation with another human being ?

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keep ignoring the phone for a while, and soon it won't matter, because all your customers will stop calling, and start calling the guy next door who does pick the phones up

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Toddy... Answering the phone is thinking "outside the box"????

I've dealt with this. I told these people that the phone should never hear a 3rd ring. And I told them day in, day out. I finally got ahold of an old broken phone and hid it on my desk. Next day, 3rd ring? I took the phone and slammed it on the floor and yelled "TWO RINGS AT THE MOST" as loud as I could with a pissed off look on my face.

Problem solved.

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Loki520: You sound like a barrel of laughs dear, what queer behavour.

Phone protocol and any protocols meqan different things to others, get a life and stop whinging people.

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Perhaps because of the wide dissemination of cell phones, the members of Japan’s younger generation tend to regard the telephone as an item of personal use—like a toothbrush—and are reluctant to respond to an unknown caller.

What is this??? This has nothing to do with "personal use". Please. You have hired secretarys for this exact reason. The only reason someone should be calling the floor, is if it is actually someone calling for the person who's desk the phone sits on. And usually that's the secretary calling that person telling them that the person on the other line is for them. This is not an act of rebellion, this is simple: Caller calls the one person they are trying to talk to. That one person answers, and they have a conversation. SIMPLE. Not everyone in the company is a secretary. I GUARANTEE the CEO or vice president doesn't answer every ringing phone, why should the newest guy??? Especially if they don't even know their job completely yet???

newly hired freshman

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They need to just meet halfway on this. Before work starts, be explicit on what everyone's responsibilities are and how to do them. If someone has to answer the phone, then yes that someone might have to be you. Making duties clear beforehand would surely smooth things out rather than give the appearance of being bossed around on the spot.

Now if someone is explained this clearly on orientation day and doesn't think it's for them, that's what the door is for. But it's not fair to spring too many random tasks onto someone if it's just the new guy having to do it.

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my experience with the young generation is just the opposite of what these articles describe: they are the ones who are much more able to think out of the box, understand customer requirements and respond flexibly. Much more effective to work with.

Really? They're not working at my local post office, the Softbank sales counters, or my kuyakushou, where I deal with them in Japanese. I see very little ability to problem-solve, think on their feet or "think outside the box" as you say. I don't blame them personally, though, I blame the rigid, rote, educational system that reared them.

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I GUARANTEE the CEO or vice president doesn't answer every ringing phone, why should the newest guy?

I take it you are new to the world of business.. or were recently let go from it. The CEO, the new guy-- yeah, there is some hierarchy and workplace responsibility differences involved there.

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Chris.... after 3 months of telling them, day in and day out, to not allow a 3rd ring, what would you have me do? Tell them again?

It's obvious that, by that time, they didn't believe me serious. They did that day and for the next 2 years the phone NEVER, not once, hit a 3rd ring.

There are many ways to motivate someone. Showing anger that isn't directed at any particular individual is just one of them.

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They need to just meet halfway on this.

No they do NOT. One is an employer, and the other is an employee. In today's economy, with unemployment as it is... you either do exactly as you are told, how you are told, when you are told... As an employer, it is not that difficult to replace a "new" guy whose suffering from some confusion over his place in the hierarchy.

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How about this approach that might yield results: the dolt who ignores a ringing phone when told (repeatedly) to answer it is the one you tell payroll to ignore at the end of the month when salaries are e-transmitted to employee bank accounts. This could soon start a meaningful dialogue about 'job responsibilities and expectations' and bring about desired change in the office. I'm just saying.

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Well, I share the same phone with a newbie. Whenever the phone rings, she never answers it. When I pass her calls to her, she always asked who is on the line which really pissed me off. She expects me to know who and for what purpose the other person is calling.

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If I were the boss, I wouldn't want a newbie picking up phones. There are way worse things newbies can do than not picking up the phone.

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Before work starts, be explicit on what everyone's responsibilities are and how to do them. If someone has to answer the phone, then yes that someone might have to be you. Making duties clear beforehand would surely smooth things out rather than give the appearance of being bossed around on the spot.

This would be nice. Seems like at quite a few places here bosses are somehow averse to giving proper orientation and would much rather get their jollies from watching subordinates fumble about in the dark.

Now, I would agree that asking "why?" is sort of back talk, but in Japan, asking "how?" is also taken the same way. That's what's absurd.

I would think upper management should hold these middle management types responsible for their poor communication skills.

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@intheknow

I take it you are new to the world of business.. or were recently let go from it. The CEO, the new guy-- yeah, there is some hierarchy and workplace responsibility differences involved there.

Clearly, I'm not saying there isn't. Being in the Military, I clearly understand a heirarchy. Maybe the CEO was a horrible example (possibly floor supervisor, or something similar to it would have been better), my apologies. But the point I'm trying to make is; even here in the military, if a phone rings, the highest ranking person in the building answers the phone, and doesn't b*ch about it. If there are people sitting, not doing anything; then yes, the as chewing begins. But if he/she realizes that there are people actually doing work, they don't cry like babies because no one answered the phone.

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