“Live to 100, work to 70.” That seems to be where we’re heading. Is it sustainable? asks Spa! (Sept 21-28). The first half of the equation may be. The second is hitting snags.
Effective this past April, Japan’s official retirement age is 70, up from 65. New laws passed then require employers to retain workers to age 70. It’s interesting, Spa! notes, that around the same time Honda, the automaker, invited employees in their 40s and 50s to take early retirement – and got swamped with 2000 applicants. Clearly two currents are flowing here – in opposite directions.
It’s a whole new world out there. Can aging workers keep pace with new values demanding new attitudes, new technologies requiring new skills, at a time of life when physical and sometimes mental energy is apt to decline? Some can, certainly; some welcome the challenge and grow youthful meeting it. Not everyone.
“Tetsuyuki Ikehashi” (a pseudonym), now 54, joined his company, a precision instrument maker, straight out of college. The economic bubble was swelling then. One of a crowd of new hirees, he soon got lost in it; he did his job without distinguishing himself, and the years passed.
Ten years ago he was transferred to a subsidiary and promoted to section head. Pleased at first, he soon had second thoughts. Was he cut out for executive status, however junior? Among the difficulties were underlings older than himself, some of whom were resentful, and foreign staff, with attendant language and cultural barriers that had to be smoothed over.
He wished he’d stayed where he was. There was another issue, characteristic of changing times. Women were rising – some, he says, owing not to ability but to the company’s ambition to look progressive. He found himself working under a woman whose competence was questionable. He feels under pressure to quietly tidy up the messes she makes.
Then came teleworking, with its demand for technical skills that don’t come easily to him. One thing and another, in short. Still relatively young, he looks ahead to 16 more years of this and asks himself, “Can I hold out until retirement?”
“Takashi Asano,” 51, graduated and took a job with a small company, a drink maker. It suited him perfectly. He was promoted, and promoted again. “At this rate I’ll be an executive before long,” he thought. Others noticed him too. Ten years ago he was headhunted by a listed company. He took the plunge.
Mistake. The intensely competitive ambience was not for him. The power harassment was intolerable. There was no going back to his former employer and no staying with his current one. He checked out Hello Work, the government employment agency, and found an opening with an electronics company. The trouble was, he knew nothing about electronics.
And the company is “black,” which is to say ruthlessly exploitative. Constant pressure and 100 hours a month of overtime finally laid him low – he collapsed from a brain hemorrhage.
He recovered, is back at work, and allowed to work shorter hours. But he too wonders if he can hold out for the 19 years still standing between him and retirement.
How much can the economy reasonably demand of its workforce? That’s the question Spa! is asking, and the evidence, still far from conclusive, is pouring in thick and fast, in the shape of small individual stories like these.© Japan Today