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5 ways to bug your older Japanese coworkers at a new job

23 Comments
By Casey Baseel, RocketNews24

Going out to see cherry blossoms, regardless of the weather, is by far Japan’s favorite springtime activity. But there’s another tradition that’s almost as enthusiastically followed: veteran employees complaining about the new hires at their company.

The business year starts in April in Japan, which means that right now at companies across Japan, older employees are grumbling about how the younger generation just doesn’t get it. Just what are young professionals in Japan doing that’s rubbing their coworkers the wrong way?

The economy is always a topic of conversation in Japan. Twitter user Mosha no Meruze recently shared this photo of a TV news program reporting on the results of a survey last year by Goo Ranking that asked senior employees what surprised them about their companies’ newest workers.

5. Without prior notice, young employees come late, leave early, and miss work

All these violations were lumped together, so we don’t have any statistics on the breakdown between the three. As in other countries, new employees showing up late is unfortunately all too common, and not showing up at all without calling in to say you need a day off is obviously an even bigger problem (although our experience working in Japanese offices would seem to point to this being something that happens only rarely).

As for employees simply sneaking out before quitting time? We can’t recall any of our coworkers ever pulling that stunt, but nonetheless, it’s technically a part of the number five response.

4. Even when someone is explaining to them how to do their work, they don’t take notes

There is, of course, the possibility that the new recruit simply has the mental capacity to keep up with the explanation and retain everything in his head. As the new guy in the office, though, it might be better business etiquette to at least make a show of jotting down a few notes, if for no reason other than to prove you’re paying attention.

3. They can’t use polite speech

This is a particularly tough hurdle in Japan, since the Japanese language has two different classes of polite speech. One shows respect for the person you’re talking to, and the other implies humility about yourself.

Intimidating as the concept may sound, something similar happens in English. For example, if a flight attendant says, “I’d be happy to bring you a refill for your beverage” and “Would you mind stowing your tray?” both sound totally natural. On the other hand, “I wouldn’t mind bringing you a refill” and “Would you be happy to stow your tray?” Not so much.

The Japanese language, though, has a particularly large number of phrases and speech patterns that clearly differentiate whether you’re speaking with respect or humility, and keeping them straight (or remembering to use them at all) can be difficult for new employees, especially when the relatively little amount of discussion between Japanese educators and their pupils, even in college-level academics, means most students don’t acquire much experience speaking to people at higher organizational levels than themselves.

2. They can’t give a proper greeting

This issue could very well be tied to the one above. If you’re not used to speaking with your organizational superiors, but are vaguely aware that there’s a whole linguistic protocol that dictates the right and wrong way to do it, there’s a chance you’ll adopt the defensive strategy of just keeping quiet until you’re spoken to.

The downside, though, is that doing so can make you look sullen or unenthusiastic about your job, so even if you feel a little self-conscious early on, you’re better off giving a confident “Ohayou gozaimasu!” as you enter the office (even though it literally means “good morning,” it’s the standard way to say hello to your coworkers when you see them in-person for the first time that day, regardless of the time on the clock).

1. They do what they’re told to do, but nothing else

Now we come to the most divisive response. Comparatively, Japanese society values and respects experience, and a commonly repeated maxim is “Migi ni narae,” which literally means “Follow the lead set by the right,” referring to the traditional way of writing Japanese text in vertical columns from right to left. In other words, look at the tried-and-true methods those more experienced than you have developed, and follow them.

On the other hand, even in Japan, there’s a certain minimum amount of initiative managers want employees to take, and while it might not be as much as in western companies, it’s certainly more than “absolutely none.”

However, the timing of Mosha no Meruze’s tweet, coming just one week after new employees started their jobs, had many Internet users taking issue with this exasperated desire that young workers make more of an effort to think for themselves.

“I’m still not accustomed to my workplace, or my work responsibilities, and I can’t always get even the things I’m told to do to turn out right.” “I can understand all of these except for #1.” “It’s only been a week since they started their jobs. Impossible.”

This is where we have to point out that while Mosha no Meruze’s tweet went out this month, these results were initially released last April. What’s more, Goo carried out the survey between January 27 and 30 of 2014, meaning that the “new employees” the respondents were griping about had, by that point, already spent roughly nine months on the job. That seems like enough time to start getting the hang of knowing what the next step of the process is and occasionally getting it done without being asked.

As a matter of fact, at least one Internet commenter thinks that learning to do just that is a critical part of growing up, reacting to Mosha no Meruze’s tweet with: “Um, well, they’re adults now. Thinking for yourself about what you should do next, isn’t that a necessary skill?”

Of course, skills take time to develop, and in this case, the survey results seem to indicate not everyone has them down pat at the nine-month mark. So maybe, along with ohayou gozaimasu, a good phrase to remember is “Hoka ni nanika otetsudai dekiru koto arimasu ka?”, or “Is there anything else I can help with?”

Sources: Hamster Sokuho, Twitter, Goo

Read more stories from RocketNews24. -- Best bosses in the world? Three company presidents adored by their employees -- How Your Lazy Coworker is Like a Can of Vegetable Juice -- Japan second worst in G8 for employee satisfaction

© Japan Today

©2019 GPlusMedia Inc.


23 Comments
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Oh, we've been doing those for ages in the US.

6 ( +6 / -0 )

Oops, JapanToday, I found a typo. You mistakenly wrote the title as "5 ways to bug your older Japanese coworkers at a new job". I think what you meant to write was "5 ways older Japanese coworkers whinge about new hires not doing management's training duties for them."

If you're the superior and you don't think the new hires are doing their job properly, get off your ass and mentor them!

Number 5 is the one that I think a lot of foreigners are going to fixate on. Yeah, I think we all know some people here who we'd like to take more initiative (like say, the management that is apparently prompting older co-workers to complain here), but initiative comes with confidence, and confidence comes with success. If your new hires haven't been given the chance to succeed at their job yet, do you really expect them to just jump out there and potentially endanger their status in the company?

But number 4 is the one that really grinds my gears. We're talking about coworkers, not the new hire's university professor. If whatever they're explaining is so complex that the new hire needs to take notes, then maybe the company should have prepared beforehand by drawing up a document that explains the procedure step-by-step beforehand. Let's be honest, what's really driving #4 is not a genuine complaint that new hires aren't learning their jobs properly but rather petty complaining that new hires aren't fawning over experienced workers with elaborate shows of pretending their every word is so important it needs to be written down.

13 ( +16 / -3 )

The youngsters just don't show respect. Some newbies even try to get in the same elevator as me.

8 ( +10 / -2 )

They do what they’re told to do, but nothing else

I hate this. When I interview potential new employees, I tell them that if they are this type of person, they won't last long in the company, so they should consider that when deciding whether or not to take the job.

3 ( +6 / -3 )

Nicely put katsu!!

The initiative bit also drives me crazy, companies that I HIRE to do things for me often have people how need to be led every step of the way, REPEATLY over time, they just cant figure out or wont do what isn't that difficult, drives me nuts!

And these aren't the newbies these are men in the 40s & 50s, its a bit rare to find people who can grasp things & jump on it

1 ( +2 / -1 )

Good points, but I would like to see one now titled: "5 ways to bug your new Japanese coworkers at their new job..."

1 ( +2 / -1 )

They do what they’re told to do, but nothing else

I think that this is a case of the pot calling the kettle black. I have seen many veteran employees who will only do what they are told to do, and if something comes up that is out of the ordinary, they will balk at it or give some reason why they can't.

They can’t use polite speech

Seen this one a few times too. Especially if the new or potential employee is an employee who is married to a foreign spouse or who has lived and worked overseas (especially America) where they may have picked up some of the American attitude and thought and don't show reverence to some older Japanese employees. We once missed out on a potential employee who would have been highly skilled at the job, but the senior Japanese didn't want her. End result, we took someone who showed the proper speech, and she wound up not being able to do the job and out on 2 years sick leave at our expense. But, she knew how to speak properly.

8 ( +9 / -1 )

Rather than fermenting frustration and anger towards co-workers, as this article would have us think about, in this age of high job insecurity and growing income and wealth gaps, workers need to find ways to work together to resist oppressive management practices and fight against normalized and excessive labour abuses.

6 ( +8 / -2 )

@Warispeace

True dat.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

1. They do what they’re told to do, but nothing else well thats not totally there fault, thats more to do with cultural upbringing in being taught to conform and not think individually and creatively.

2 ( +5 / -3 )

I work at a JP company and do say good morning but never osaki in... I feel it is a form of social control to announce when you leave early and invite the opprobrium of the group. So I just get up quietly and leave.

As to elevators, my office is on the 4th floor and I always use stairs. My BP is good and I have lost an inch on the waist avoiding elevators. At my last company we had a 76 yo American guy who walked up to the 26th floor office by stairs. Taking stairs is one way to keep in good shape for the long haul.

1 ( +4 / -3 )

We're talking about coworkers, not the new hire's university professor.

True to a point, but:

Experience boils down to knacks and quirks that cannot easily be described in a manual;

The physical act of distilling information and writing down what you consider key aids memory, regardless of whether it is referred to again;

What university professors teach is often available in the textbook, while the specific knowledge of an old hand is not.

When I'm training someone, I don't particularly care if they jot down my advice or not as long as they get it, but I'm pushing 50 and still, on occasion, have to learn new tricks, in which case I find it helpful to take notes.

That said, let's not go all North Korea: ever notice in photographs that the only people not carrying notebooks and pencils when meeting the Young Marshal are never seen again? They have, and that's why they all do.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

"I'd be happy to bring you a refill for your beverage." sounds "natural"???

Sound more like a creepy, malfunctioning robot-butler.

2 ( +3 / -1 )

There is, of course, the possibility that the new recruit simply has the mental capacity to keep up with the explanation and retain everything in his head.

Like having to refill a cup of coffee or tea demands the need to have notes taken. On a more serious note, typically "newbies" in a Japanese company are not given jobs that require much thought, so get a life!

-1 ( +1 / -2 )

They do what theyre told to do, but nothing else.

Back home I worked in an airport duty-free store over the holidays. We hired people from all over the world, and by far the biggest complaint from managers was that the Japanese staff had absolutely no initiative at all. They would just stand around like automatons, waiting to be given orders. We all worked on commission, and they brought in the lowest sales of all (fortunately the sheer numbers of Japanese tourists buying dozens of keychains, pens, and chocolate bars each made up for the shortfall). On the other hand, they never complained about being ordered to work through their lunch hours when we were short-handed. The other staff members used to quit over stuff like that!

Especially if the new or potential employee is an employee who is married to a foreign spouse or who has lived and worked overseas (especially America) where they may have picked up some of the American attitude and thought and don't show reverence to some older Japanese employees.

Yup. I especially don't like checking into hotels (in Japan) with staff like that. Sure, their English is perfect, but their attitudes need some work. They don't usually last very long, though.

6 ( +7 / -1 )

"The Japanese language, though, has a particularly large number of phrases and speech patterns that clearly differentiate whether you’re speaking with respect or humility, "

I'd say the opposite is true. There are a relatively small number of formulaic expressions that can be used to show respect. English is much more complex. I recall a Japanese woman recounting her experiences in the USA. At first, she thought the outward informality allowed her a lot of freedom. Some months later she found she had no good friends. Then someone told her she came over as rude and too familiar with people she had just met.

5 ( +5 / -0 )

The physical act of distilling information and writing down what you consider key aids memory, regardless of whether it is referred to again;

To a degree. It's useful for regurgitating facts on a test, at least if the person doing it has an intelligence strong in the written modality. But it's utterly at odds with the way information technology has trained young people to think.

Intelligence is no longer about memorizing data, it's about knowing how to quickly extract data from accurate references and then synthesize and utilize that data in creative or at least non-automated ways. Because for most tasks today, if they're simple enough that an employee can learn them simply by taking notes, well, there's probably software that can do that task far better for only a fraction of the cost.

I'm glad that you take a flexible approach when dealing with the people you train taking notes. That's ideal. But when I see complaints about people not taking notes like are mentioned in the article, veteran employees assuming that new hires who don't go through the motions are being careless, all I really see are people who haven't caught on to how the 21st century works whinging about a younger generation that has.

-2 ( +0 / -2 )

I think this list needs some translating:

Without prior notice, young employees come late, leave early, and miss work

Young employees come in on time, leave on time, don't sit at their desks shuffling papers and trying to look busy until 10pm at night when there is no work to do.

They also have the rudeness to actually call in sick when they're sick, rather than coming in and sharing their germs with everyone! How selfish!

Even when someone is explaining to them how to do their work, they don’t take notes

Young employees barely know where the bathrooms are, never mind what a "form 17.1.5.c" is, nor do they have a clue who this old guy rambling at them is, nor do they even know where to pick up stationary even if they wanted to take notes.

... because they've only been there for a few days and haven't been properly oriented.

They can’t use polite speech

They have no idea who anyone is, what their positions are, and how to address anyone properly. They either over-do the politeness or under-do it, and then get bawled out for it.

... see not being oriented properly.

They can’t give a proper greeting

They're trying to keep a low profile while they figure out if they're even in the right building and so don't want to draw attention to themselves. Chances are that a week into working there they still haven't received their contracts and only have a vague idea if they're actually employer or not, or whether they're even in the right company.

... see not being oriented properly.

They do what they’re told to do, but nothing else

Initiative requires some idea of the "big picture", of how your efforts fit into the efforts of other people, and how to make sure your innovation isn't stepping on someone else's toes.

Honestly any new hire that walks in the door and starts proposing how to reorganise the place to be more efficient just looks like an idiot. First get your feet under the desk and figure out how to do your own job, then start innovating and making suggestions later.

... but again, insufficient orientation and insufficiently well documented processes are a big problem here.

Overall most of these complaints boil down to how senior salarymen document nothing. I tried documenting our processes and philosophy once and it was fascinating to see the shocked looks on quite senior employee's faces when they saw the big picture for possibly the first time... I was then asked to cut it out because when I documented the process it became abundantly clear that there were about twice as many employees as needed and nobody wanted to lose their job if senior management ever saw the actual process flow.

0 ( +4 / -4 )

Sometimes people taking initiative aren't always as appreciated as you might wish and so new employees can be a bit scared about sticking their necks out. The senior employees have a point if everyone's sitting around and nothing's getting done because employees are supposed to be self-starters, but if they blew a gasket because some new hire did something off-script whether it worked for the best or not then they need to reevaluate themselves and their attitudes towards their juniors. As some people above mentioned, mentoring. Mentoring helps. Bullying and lecturing and browbeating or even snubbing and giving the cold shoulder? Not so much.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

They do what they’re told to do, but nothing else.

This is almost laughable. What do you want the new employees to do? They have just started working! Stop criticizing people as if you were perfect. And I know exactly what the older employers will say when finally new employees start doing job voluntarily; that'll be "Why did you do that without asking me?! All you have to do is just do as I said!!"

2 ( +2 / -0 )

Dancing on a train (on a company function or not) would probably get the oldsters riled up, too.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

If the process for hiring/getting a job is somewhat as it was shown in the first few episodes of "Boku no ita Jikan" it's no wonder about these complaints. I mean, if they have standard responses for question at an interview, how do you expect to know the Soft skills required to do a job? all of the 5 are related with soft skills, greeting, showing polite speech, even getting late, and leaving early (although this last one is a relative term, since if you leave at the time of the clock, is leaving on time and not early, but seniors tend to think as "leaving early") the #1 is tricky though, does the job requires to have initiative? sometimes it is expected for someone that does a routine work to "do more" and personally I'd rather have quality rather than quantity

0 ( +0 / -0 )

They do what they’re told to do, but nothing else

At least this is better than they didn't do what they're told to do and do different way until they stuck and ask you to do their mess. I've just get new hire like that and s*ck really. good now he asked for resign and we tried to hire to new people. But still can't stand his act at office. o well, he is not japanese.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

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