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Inside the mind of a Japanese manager accused of 'power harassment'

25 Comments
By Master Blaster, RocketNews24

The term “power harassment” arose in the early 2000s as a way to describe behavior by managers that can be considered abusive to their staff such as publicly reprimanding or even ridiculing them, or forcing them to do excessively menial or humiliating chores outside of their job description.

Last year, only 15 years or so since the concept was officially recognized, there were over 66,000 reported cases of power harassment in Japan. The following story is one such case and is based on the testimony of an unidentified manager as reported by Sankei Shimbun West.

The man, whom we’ll refer to with the ubiquitous pseudonym of Tanaka, was an executive for a major insurance company. In his mid-40s, he was promoted to the position of general manager of the Tokai region – the youngest person to have been given such an honor in the company’s history.

Clearing an eight-figure salary (six figures in U.S. dollars) and in such a good position in his company, things couldn’t be better for this up and coming executive. At least it couldn’t until one fateful day in February of last year, when he was called into the Tokyo headquarters for an unexplained reason.

Upon arriving, Tanaka was sent into a room with three “compliance officials” and took a seat. One of the men handed him a paper, the title of which read “Regarding Accusations of Power Harassment.” It wasn’t until this point that he knew what was going on.

“Respond to the questions and then read it out loud please,” one of the officials coldly requested.

Tanaka glanced down the list of dozens of complaints, none of which looked like anything he recalled ever doing. Underneath each “victim” testimony was a blank field for him to handwrite his response.

Tanaka began to think this was a case of mistaken identity, but figured his best course of action was to do what the men told him to.

Reprimanding subordinates in public without using a separate room, read the first complaint. Tanaka jotted something down and then read it aloud.

“I never reprimand my people, I only give them advice,” he recited.

Then there was a lengthy list of comments Tanaka was accused of saying to his subordinates such as “you should go back to elementary school,” and “die, I will kill you” to all of which he wrote and read out that he had never said such things.

The next accusation read: Kicked a locker while shouting at an employee.

“What,” muttered Tanaka muting his shock as he wrote down his response and then read it to the three men, “I wasn’t shouting at anyone. I was the one who was reprimanded by my bosses and I was just letting out some steam.”

The list went on -- Called a subordinate with thinning hair ‘bald old man,’ told him to ‘get a rug,’ and left doodles he drew of a popular bald cartoon character on the man’s chair.

Tanaka angrily wrote something down and then read it out in an increasingly agitated voice, “I’m balding too. We joke like that every day, it’s a bonding thing between me and him.”

Perhaps the climax of the list was: Sprinkled "shichimi" (a type of mixed seasoning powder) and squirted mayonnaise on an employee’s head while out drinking together. Then began mocking him.

Every item on this list had been a groundless accusation or misinterpretation of the truth as far as Tanaka was concerned, but he couldn’t believe someone would mistake this instance as power harassment. “I did that as a preventative measure for sexual harassment. That man was drunk and trying to touch his female coworker’s breasts. I put the condiments on his head to diffuse the situation and didn’t ridicule him too much.”

After the full list of grievances were gone through, Tanaka submitted the handwritten responses to the three men. However, as if they heard nothing he said, one official informed him, “the victims’ testimonies prove this is power harassment.”

Completely confused by the meeting, Tanaka returned home. Eight days later he received a phone call from headquarters saying that he wouldn’t need to go into work that day and that, “his presence in the office was determined to be disruptive to the work environment.” The next day he received notice of his termination.

However, convinced that he was unfairly railroaded out of his job, Tanaka is currently suing his company in Osaka District Court, not for any considerable sum of money, but simply to clear his name.

According to Yasuko Okada, who is credited with coining the term “power harassment,” Tanaka’s case is not unusual. Most power harassers are completely unaware of what they are doing. It stands to reason as very few employers, with the exception of perhaps Darth Vader or Skeletor, consciously set out to abuse their own subordinates.

Many are merely emulating the bosses who have come before them from a time when violent outbursts and draconian management were signs of passion and authority over one’s work. Perhaps some power harassers never received the proper guidance on leadership such as the differences between chastising someone or offering them advice.

There are may even be some who have risen through the ranks so quickly that they failed so see how their words (such as “I’ll kill you”) and actions (such as pouring condiments on someone’s head) have a far more menacing tone when coming from a superior rather than a colleague.

There are a lot of potential reasons, but all them seem to indicate that a need for preventative measures inside corporations is more important than simply punishing those culpable of power harassment.

Source: Sankei News via Hachima Kiko

Read more stories from RocketNews24. -- ‘Power harrassment’ in Japan’s police force blamed for officer’s suicide -- Leadership does nothing despite public harassment of Tokyo Metropolitan Assembly member -- Scalding your subordinate with tofu – definitely not proper police procedure

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25 Comments
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Many are merely emulating the bosses who have come before them from a time when violent outbursts and draconian management were signs of passion and authority over one’s work. Perhaps some power harassers never received the proper guidance on leadership such as the differences between chastising someone or offering them advice.

So the moral of the story is; don't promote people to positions in management until after completing proper management training courses. This guy got nailed because it was power harassment, involving other men as well as women.

He put mayo and spice on a dudes head who was trying to feel up a female coworker and calls his actions "preventative?" Dude is certainly in the dark, and it's better for everyone that he's gone!

-1 ( +4 / -5 )

So the moral of the story is; don't promote people to positions in management until after completing proper management training courses.

I don't think such a thing exists in the majority of companies in Japan. They just promote you, and tell you 'gambatte'.

6 ( +7 / -1 )

How childish! An adult pours condiments on another if someone is about to be sexually assaulted to "defuse" the situation? The problem is NOT educating horrible bosses. They can educate themselves! The problem is when they bully or do worse to their employees. Japan does not need people feeling sorry for tyrannical management that's for sure. It's the regular people that need support.

1 ( +2 / -1 )

It's just the bullying culture of Japan, there is nothing we can do to change these dumb-old managers, however we can start changing the way bullying is handled earlier in elementary schools.

9 ( +12 / -3 )

Whether or not this fellow’s actions constituted power harassment is debatable. Did he have a poor relationship with his co-workers before becoming a manager? Any history? Also, we don’t know the context or the tone. There could be professional jealousy involved and, I know from personal experience, Japanese men are mortified over public embarrassment. It’s not unknown for workers to twist the truth or outright lie to support their own agenda or that of the higher-ups.

Regardless, it would appear this fellow has a case; according to Japanese Labor Law. It doesn’t appear that he was given a verbal warning. And, a reasonable amount of time to comply. It doesn’t appear that he was given a written warning. And, a reasonable amount of time to comply. Before he was terminated. Hope he has employment insurance.

4 ( +5 / -1 )

We don't know the details, but as proteus7 said, it's abusive to simply call somebody in and fire them for inappropriate management without any warning or training. He was apparently unaware of his behavior, and was given zero time to correct his actions. If he was talented enough to be the youngest manager in the company, it's surprising the company was so eager to let him go.

I could see immediate termination if he did something shockingly abusive, like punching someone. But all the actions described here could be mitigated by the circumstances. Not to say they were appropriate, but they were hardly deserving of termination without warning. Mayonaisse on the head is inappropriate of course, but mitigated by the circumstances (a drinking party, and the victim was sexually harassing a woman).

I find it hard to believe that a major insurance company would just sack a highly valued employee without given him a chance to correct course. Maybe there is more to the story.

1 ( +3 / -2 )

words (such as “I’ll kill you”) and actions (such as pouring condiments on someone’s head) have a far more menacing tone when coming from a superior rather than a colleague.

I would say that words such as "I'll kill you" and actions such as pouring condiments on someone's head have an extremely menacing tone whether coming from a superior or a colleague.

Having said that, I do hear some people in Japan blurt out "死ね!" ("SHIne!," equivalent to "eff off and die!") quite frequently here. That sort of abusive language seems to be taken less seriously here than in many other countries.

4 ( +6 / -2 )

Moral of the story, never hire weaklings to work for you. If they think every statement you make is about them, they should work in Familymart or so. I never hire people who can not take criticism for their failure.

-3 ( +5 / -8 )

Moral of the story, never hire weaklings to work for you.

Easy said, not as easy done. Sometimes, you need someone, and an ideal candidate just doesn't apply for the position. You end up having to hire someone, even though they are not ideal.

I never hire people who can not take criticism for their failure.

I'd love to hear how you screen this in interviews. It's something I'd definitely integrate into my interview process. Can you give some more information on how you test this?

0 ( +2 / -2 )

No matter how you look at those allegations, they are grave instances of power harassment. It's fair that he might not have known any better, but these changes will be coming from bottom up, rather than top down, so examples like him need to be made

0 ( +1 / -1 )

never hire weaklings to work for you

What macho BS. Toxic behaviour is to be condoned, then?

It sounds like this manager - and all those around him - could have benefitted from much less costly coaching intervention to develop self-awareness and model the desired behaviour.

3 ( +5 / -2 )

Last place I want to be is inside the mind of some loopy Japanese manager.

3 ( +5 / -2 )

at least this company fired him, many companies just push this stuff under the rug unless there is litigation.

I felt power harassed at a US company but with at-will employment and being a white male, there is no redress,,,

0 ( +2 / -2 )

The story could be complete fiction - "power fiction."

2 ( +6 / -4 )

The story could be complete fiction - "power fiction."

I'm leaning that way too. In any case, if people are concerned about fair treatment in the workplace, this manager has been treated very shoddily. He has an exemplary record, is called in on charges, many of which he denies, and summarily fired. No warning, even though these rules are still quite new for Japanese companies.

One can assume he received no training in management skills either. Just doesn't make sense why a company would set up their brightest employees to fall like this. Either the story is made up, or we are missing essential details.

2 ( +3 / -1 )

Confusing article and probably not the best story to understand the whys and hows behind power harassment. Tanaka seems to be a socially inept, childish and not particularly bright manager. Is he capable of bullying? Yep, most probably but he also sounds like the type of manager bosses and fellow managers undermine in front of his team members.

Imo this article is more about how dysfunctional the workplace in Japan is/can be: from tanaka himself to the guy sexualy harrassing his coworkers or the 'compliance officers' (why didnt they speak to him before, why didnt they put him on probation with clear points to address/rectify by dd/mm/yyyy, how about some proper management training etc).

1 ( +1 / -0 )

I'm somewhat confused by the slant of this article - where we supposed to feel Mr. Tanaka had been wronged?

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Just like there is a "Power Harassment" alert system, there should also be a "incompetent" alert system. People should be reminded that they are losing point on that scale if they are being stupid at work. Just the way the word "Power Harassment" sounds grave, the incompetency should be labeled as "Waste of Company Resource Pool". HR should call in stupid staff and say, you have been identified as a "Waste of Company Resource Pool". You pack your bag, or we dump you.

-2 ( +0 / -2 )

However, as if they heard nothing he said, one official informed him, “the victims’ testimonies prove this is power harassment.”

Then what's the point of calling the manager in?

0 ( +1 / -1 )

commanteer: ... One can assume he received no training in management skills either. Just doesn't make sense why a company would set up their brightest employees to fall like this. Either the story is made up, or we are missing essential details.

Not saying he's not lying, but he may not be, or may not have done anything differently than the other managers.

The youngest ever promoted to his level. Not difficult to imagine the resulting jealousy and fear among his new peers and superiors (post-promotion). People will play all kind of tricks on their way up the ladder.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

I feel that back stabbing is quite prevalent here and is a hidden way of reverse bullying. Some jealous office workers getting together to harass someone is not nice. They ganged up on him and got what they wanted...one of their own who was looked over to be the next to step up to the plate.

1 ( +3 / -2 )

What the hell did I just read??!?!! My heads hurts & is spinning, this is theatre of the absurd for sure.........insane all round.

This "Tanaka" sounds like a real piece of work, but his company also looks just as bad if not worse, what a god awful place to work, I suppose the company is a BLACK Company which might explain all the non-sense I just read!

I am with Goldorak on this one, that company is CLEARLY dysfunctional on so many levels & reflective of the crap so many have to endure here, no winners at this place of work that's for sure!!!

0 ( +1 / -1 )

I'd suffered a bit of abuse from a colleague who, technically, was at my same level, and while it pissed me off, I didn't complain until it began to affect performance. I then discretely contacted management and detailed the situation, emphasizing that, while I wanted his performance improved, that I also thought he was very talented and overall an asset.

In one week, he was gone. I f still feel bad about it - the guy wasn't a monster, just rather KY. It's a difficult world out there, and the above manager's situation is unfortunate. Emotional Quotient (EQ) is a very valuable skill which, unfortunately, is not emphasized much in this country.

1 ( +2 / -1 )

I've been doing many manual jobs as part timer in this country, unfortunately one of the conclusions I can take from all my experiences is that there are TOO MANY sadistic people in this country, the guy's pleasure is to bully people around for no reason.... poor japaneses that think they can bully a western as they do with their subordinates... If you're a male in a japanese-dominated workplace my only advise for you is: NEVER let anyone start patting you on the back or practising little weak punches on you for no reason, as if it was a innocent play during a break or something, from what I see this seemingly childish act is the very beginning of the bullying behaviour towards someone here, before the japanese guy realizes he's the bully's sandbag (in front of others), with the bully saying all sorts of nasty things to get a laugh from the "audience", and the bullied will never be able to eat in peace again.... no matter how much you hate to give the bully attention or play the childish guy, return every single pat, slap or little punch (while laughing together) while there's still time, the bully will realize you are not as weak as his japanese counterparts and the situation will never escalate.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

@Thunderbird, I totally agree. I have had a few instances where Japanese slap you on top of the head, especially when drinking. I did not react because I did not know how to respond except with a full blown fight. In my country such slapping is totally unacceptable.

0 ( +1 / -1 )

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