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Japanese ways of getting work done no longer cut it in today's world

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How hard do the Japanese work? So hard that making them work less tops Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s labor reform agenda. So hard that the Japanese word karoshi (death due to overwork) is understood worldwide. And yet, not so very hard after all, says Shukan Gendai (April 29).

Consider the numbers. According to the Databook of International Labor Statistics, the average Japanese in 2014 worked 37.7 hours a week – as against 42 for the average American, 41.4 for the average Briton, 40 for the average German. Even in France, famous (or infamous) for socialist protection (or coddling) of workers, the hourly average topped Japan’s, though barely – 37.8. Among the Group of Seven countries whose numbers were available (Italy’s weren’t) only Canada fell behind (or pulled ahead of, if leisure is the goal) Japan, with an average 37.1 weekly working hours.

Different countries measure differently and the comparisons are not absolute, but they are indicative, and in Japan’s case a pronounced downward trend in working hours is supported by other statistics. The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) says Japanese worked on average 1729 hours in 2014 – down from 2000-plus in the 1970s, when the economy was soaring, and the 1980s, when it peaked. Those, Shukan Gendai seems to be saying, were the good old days.

Back then, recalls Toyokazu Ono, who joined Matsushita Electric in 1971, “working 100 hours of overtime a month was normal.” Now it stirs fears of karoshi and the corrosive publicity it brings. Employers are almost desperate to get employees out on time.

A generation ago there was no such thing as “on time.” “We didn’t think of overtime as hardship,” says Ono. “That’s why it didn’t break us physically. Work and our companies were everything for us. We loved our work. We wanted to work more.”

Making allowances for nostalgic exaggeration, the old, now somewhat tattered image of the “corporate warrior” was not pure fiction. It reflected the dedication that Japan’s postwar growth, which astonishes even today, rested on. Aging veterans speak wistfully of working with such absorption they forgot to eat and sleep. Governments of the day would never have dreamed of seeking to limit working hours. No one thought of asking it to.

What changed? Two things essentially, says Jonan Shinyo Kinko Bank president Tsuyoshi Yoshihara. One: the team spirit among workers snapped. Two (not unrelated to one): the goal narrowed. Work, to be meaningful, must have a larger purpose than mere profits or a mere livelihood. The old sense of mission, of serving society, of reconstructing a war-shattered nation, faded. Prosperity, once achieved, is something of a bore. What to achieve next? More prosperity? Corporate profits and individual affluence – even when they are achievable, as in today’s struggling economy they often are not – won’t drive workers en masse to the excesses of all-out effort that were commonplace a generation ago.

“Ordering employers to shorten working hours,” says Yoshihara, “sends the message that work is a drag. The real goal of labor reform should be to make work enjoyable again.”

How to do that in a rapidly aging society which desperately needs children who will not be born unless parents are permitted to divide their time between work and family is not made clear. On some sort of answer emerging, concludes Shukan Gendai, hinges Japan’s future.

© Japan Today

©2019 GPlusMedia Inc.

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i would enjoy my work at a JP company if I could do it flexibly, but it is all about facetime at your desk and having the unnecessary 50+ boss micromanage your work because he has delegated everything,,,

7 ( +7 / -0 )

"Consider the numbers. According to the Databook of International Labor Statistics, the average Japanese in 2014 worked 37.7 hours a week"

Absolutely absurd data. Probably based on the fact that 40% of the workforce is irregular. Among FT salaried employees, the average is probably double that figure.

5 ( +6 / -1 )

Factories here are likely to have accurate time & attendance data. That seems to not be the case for office workers, health care, service industry, etc. Working less than 40 / week? Who does that? I would feel like I'm on vacation.

4 ( +4 / -0 )

There is increasing wage gap thanks to our corporate overlords. And bosses 'boss' more, which in excess is just a nuisance to the workers. Thus, the old warm work environment is no more. The fish rots from the head.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

This entire article is completely absurd.

0 ( +2 / -2 )

That generation also grew up poor and were suddenly cash rich.

This generation grew up spoilt in comparison and they don't see the need for rewards of hard work because they have the rewards.

3 ( +3 / -0 )

WOW, the people in this article are delusional!!

Back then, recalls Toyokazu Ono, who joined Matsushita Electric in 1971, “working 100 hours of overtime a month was normal.” Now it stirs fears of karoshi and the corrosive publicity it brings. Employers are almost desperate to get employees out on time.

Ono, please open your eyes and SEE what kind of society you have created doing this non-sense!

What changed? Two things essentially, says Jonan Shinyo Kinko Bank president Tsuyoshi Yoshihara. One: the team spirit among workers snapped. Two (not unrelated to one): the goal narrowed.

What the.............

Like I said delusional!

1 ( +2 / -1 )

Consider the numbers. According to the Databook of International Labor Statistics, the average Japanese in 2014 worked 37.7 hours a week – as against 42 for the average American, 41.4 for the average Briton, 40 for the average German. Even in France, famous (or infamous) for socialist protection (or coddling) of workers, the hourly average topped Japan’s, though barely – 37.8. Among the Group of Seven countries whose numbers were available (Italy’s weren’t) only Canada fell behind (or pulled ahead of, if leisure is the goal) Japan, with an average 37.1 weekly working hours

The Databook of International Labor Statistics is not taking into affect the fact that MANY companies, mine included, order the employees to not report overtime.  We don't.  We get a Saturday off a month, and sometimes we are asked to come in on Sunday.  All of that is unreported.  We log 8-5 Monday-Friday.  No one is checking to see if that is in fact the case and according to many other friends, both foreign and japanese, that is the case everywhere.  No one I know works 5 days a week.  NO ONE.  In addition to that, the Japanese do not count the extra hour a day that you are still at work but considered "at lunch".  Most if not all other countries do.  So just that discrepancy can add 20 hours a month alone.

Work and our companies were everything for us. We loved our work. We wanted to work more.”

There's something inherently wrong with your work being your life.  Work to live.  Don't live to work.  Or what's the purpose of your existence?  And what happens if the company fails?  Do you kill yourself because your everything is gone?

Aging veterans speak wistfully of working with such absorption they forgot to eat and sleep.

Yeah.  Those were the "good old days" Jeez...

Ordering employers to shorten working hours,” says Yoshihara, “sends the message that work is a drag.

Um. Yeah. It is.  That's why its called work.  If it wasn't, it would called FUN!

The real goal of labor reform should be to make work enjoyable again.”

Well you can do that by not making people stay there 15 hours a day.  Look, I love the gym, the dojo where I train at, and many izakaya.  But I was forced to stay in any one of these places for 15 hours a day, 5-7 days I week, I'd grow to hate it too.  Nobody is going to have fun doing ANYTHING 15 hours a day.  Work and life balance is essential to a good society.  No other way.

2 ( +3 / -1 )

Ordering employers to shorten working hours,” says Yoshihara, “sends the message that work is a drag.

Work is the curse of the drinking class

4 ( +4 / -0 )

JapanToday proving again why you should never go to tabloids for thoughtful economic analysis.

The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) says Japanese worked on average 1729 hours in 2014 – down from 2000-plus in the 1970s, when the economy was soaring, and the 1980s, when it peaked. Those, Shukan Gendai seems to be saying, were the good old days.

I'd really like to know how this statistic was calculated. I have a sneaking suspicion that it was just a straight-up division of the national total hours worked (or at least hours on the books) divided by population. If true, then they don't account for Japan's extremely large stay-at-home housewife population.

-2 ( +0 / -2 )

What changed? Two things essentially, says Jonan Shinyo Kinko Bank president Tsuyoshi Yoshihara. One: the team spirit among workers snapped. Two (not unrelated to one): the goal narrowed. Work, to be meaningful, must have a larger purpose than mere profits or a mere livelihood. 

That's not a narrowing goal. That's a widening goal. Employees want something more to life than being a worker, not less.

Incidentally, I see an argument for a lack of team spirit among workers (with no evidence, natch) but I see nothing about Japan's much higher-than-normal distrust for managers on here. Maybe if managers were doing their jobs better there would be more teamwork?

The saddest thing though, the most searing indictment of Japanese work culture though, is the title of this article slipping by without anyone noticing that this article says nothing about the ways Japan gets work done, only the amount of time spent doing it. It means that enough people don't see a difference between how you do a job and how long you spend getting it done that the title could slip past editorial review. Which is why everyone has to work so damn long- no one spares a thought to how to work any faster.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

i don't understand the title. Who determines what way of working cuts it? Does the US way of working cut it?

0 ( +0 / -0 )

So many factors at play. Education has played a huge part. But first the need to increase margins at the cost of wage growth. The need to have the correct workers on the floor to produce numbers. Most of these workers have been educated to uni level. Unlike 30 years ago where no worker would have the same level of education. So they tend to keep to the same job and with hard work got rewarded. Today worker are dreaming of being in a better position. So there is problem of team work and mission gone. Shortening the work force hour with the same pay. Is saying to your workers " Here a reward for your hard work" is not sending a message "that work is a drag" so I decide to lighten your load, WHAT BS. usually means I better start looking for a job because this place is going under.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

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