"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