“Love your work! Love your merchandise! Love your customers!” Is love so easily commanded?
The company you work for can – almost certainly does – loom larger in life than the government you live under. Government at its worst can crush your freedom, wreck the economy, and wage wars of conquest on unoffending neighbors. Short of that – confining the argument to democracies at peace – its impact on private life is minimal and transitory, inept more likely than oppressive, conditional besides on popular support, withdrawal of which terminates the government. An employee, of course, is free to change jobs if an alternative presents itself, otherwise that freedom is purely theoretical and the boss you’re stuck with can do his or her worst – which can be very bad indeed, Spa (Sept 12) finds.
Some of the magazine’s stories frankly challenge belief, and its failure to name either the companies it charges with such gross behavior or the employees who are the companies’ victims and the magazine’s sources sows further doubts. The reader must decide if the stories merit serious attention. There is reason to think they do.
The novice’s career at “A. Company,” a used car dealership, begins with the equivalent of boot camp – 500 people sharing a month-long dormitory retreat for “training” which, Spa hears from 29-year-old “Yuichi Higuchi” (all names introduced in quote marks are pseudonyms), focuses very lightly on professional skills and heavily on “mass hypnosis” – “reciting the company rules over and over in unison,” future prospects linked to enthusiasm demonstrated.
“Love your work! Love your merchandise! Love your customers! There’s no product that can’t be sold – only salespeople who can’t sell!” The volume rises, heads spin, thought dims, stress builds – to the point of people collapsing and ambulances needing to be called, Higuchi says.
The fallen carried off, the sessions roll on.
Higuchi survived – unhypnotized, it seems – only to succumb later to disgust. This was not the life he wanted. He got out – to do what or where we’re not told. The company founder, he mentions in passing, has been divorced three times, symbol of what an employee is expected to give and give up – everything.
What Higuchi calls hypnosis, “Tetsuya Kawamoto,” 33, no less sourly calls “soul training.” He sells office automation products for “B. Company." “Ryo Iwai,” 33, a systems engineer – “a sector rumored to be rife with ‘black companies,’” comments Spa – says his employer, “C. Company,” has renamed its list of rules a “mission statement.” It changes little. Group recitation is a common thread running through all three accounts – collected under Spa’s headline “The stupid rules of black companies.”
B. and C. Companies’ rules or principles or values, whatever they’re best called, seem less extreme, as reported here, than those of A. Company, hardly stupid at all in fact, however foolish a grown man or woman might feel having to chant them aloud in daily group meetings – “shouting till we’re hoarse,” grumbles Kawamoto. They stress the importance of communication, of trust, of results, and though the old samurai ethic of loyalty is not invoked in so many words, it seems to lurk beneath a modern self-oriented surface best expressed by article one of C. Company’s mission statement: “Life is happy for winners, pitiful for losers.”
This sort of group-think harks back to the 1930s, when Konnosuke Matsushita ((1894-1989) instituted it at Matsushita Denki (now Panasonic), the appliance maker he’d founded in 1918. “Service to the public by making quality goods at reasonable prices” is the first of seven precepts he had his employees recite every morning. The second: “Fairness and honesty in all business dealings.” The fifth: “Courtesy and humility.” One imagines Matsushita cringing at A., B. and C. Companies’ coarseness.
Readers who charge Spa with exaggeration if not outright invention are referred to allegations that surfaced this summer against used car dealer Bigmotor Company, said to have pocketed inflated insurance payments for repairs to vehicles deliberately damaged by employees – willingly or unwillingly complicit.© Japan Today