For its latest installment in a series titled "Troubles at work that you can't mention anywhere else," Internet news site J-Cast (http://www.j-cast.com/) listens to the woes of a production manager at a medium-sized manufacturer.
"To boost our company's cost competitiveness, we set up an industrial park in a rural part of Japan and hired quite a few foreigners. Their number has grown rapidly over the past several years and they currently account for about 40% of the work force," he writes in a June 11 posting.
Some of these workers, he goes on, belong to a particular religion (not specified), and in accordance with the tenets of their faith, have arranged to eat special foods and take their meals apart from the other workers. But that's not a problem.
It seems that some of them also set aside prayer time several times a day.
"Some Japanese employees resent this 'personal activity' on the factory floor during working hours," the manager writes. "One day, as a contingent of foreign workers began leaving the work area on their way to prayers, the group supervisor accosted them, saying, 'Today, we have to take care of a customer's claim by 4 p.m. Can't you postpone your prayers until the job's finished?"
The contingent's leader responded, "No, the time can't be changed." Since prayer breaks had been agreed upon by the personnel section at the time they were hired, the workers were fully within their rights, and the supervisor was left with no resort but to borrow workers from another unit to make his deadline.
"Why do we have to be used as a stopgap so they can go pray?" grumbled one of the workers on loan. Hearing this, one of the foreigners who had just returned from prayers retorted, "We'd get more work done by discouraging workers from cigarette breaks."
"I suppose that the number of foreign workers will not decline anytime soon," says the writer. "In my own case, this is the first time we've ever had any trouble. But I can't seem to shrug off the feeling that something negative will come of this."
J-Cast invites Kenichi Ozaki, a clinical psychiatrist, to respond to the writer.
Noting that the work force in such high-growth firms as Uniqlo and Rakuten have become increasingly globalized, more Japanese managers are likely to be put to similar tests.
"Taking it as a given that prayer times cannot be changed, I suppose that the factory will have to put into force some rules to handle stopgap measures like this," Ozaki says.
He points out that many Japanese manufacturers have already shifted their production facilities abroad, and in Japan, the trend toward hiring more foreign workers is likely to continue as well.
"It's going to be necessary for personnel management to change to a policy that allows for 'cultural diversity.' One of the strengths of Japan's manufacturing industries in the past had been a uniformly standardized work force," Ozaki points out. "But actually, even among Japanese these days, attitudes toward work have been diversifying.
"It will be important to listen to opinions about different ways of thinking with an open mind, and then work to build consensus. I suppose that corporate cultures which are capable of generating new thinking will emerge from these encounters by finding ways to make them a positive factor in boosting their international competitiveness."© Japan Today