In Japan, end-of-the-year parties are called bonenkai, which translates to “forget-the-year parties.” The idea is that both good and bad things have happened over the past 12 months, but once you’ve made it to the end of the year, it’s time to let go of any negativity towards the unpleasant things and start fresh in the new year.
So it’s ironic that bonenkai, as often as not, end up adding one more memorably unhappy moment to a lot of people’s lives just before the end-of-the-year buzzer. Why? Because it’s normal for Japanese companies to hold bonenkai for their employees, but from the workers’ point of view, they’re actually being held hostage, since after working a full day at the office they’re then pressured to spend the rest of their night drinking and making small talk with their bosses and coworkers, including the ones they don’t get along with.
Granted, the upside is that generally the company covers the cost of the bonenkai, but that just makes the situation not only not fun, but also a waste of money. Why go to the trouble of planning and paying for an event that’s ostensibly supposed to raise morale but actually just makes a large percentage of the staff miserable? The whole thing is a frustrating exercise in illogic to many people, but in addition to thinking company bonenkai don’t make sense, Japanese writer and Twitter user Naoki Matsuzawa (@naoki_ma) also has an alternative that would be a win for everyone involved.
After being contacted by an HR consulting firm looking for ways to make their bonenkai more fun, Matsuzawa suggested:
“Abolish the company’s bonenkai system entirely. Give each employee an envelope with 10,000 yen in it. Tell them ‘It’s not very much, but please go have something nice to eat with this,’ and shut down the office for the rest of the day at noon.
This will help the workers feel satisfied with the company, and they’ll work harder as a result.”
10,000 yen is definitely on the generous side, since the per-person cost of the average bonenkai doesn’t get quite that high. Still, even a moderately priced meal at a pub with two hours’ worth of unlimited drinks (the standard party plan in Japan) can easily run you 4,000 yen or more, so there’s definitely a lot of cash that Japanese companies could be channeling directly to employees instead.
Online commenters were quick to nod their heads in agreement with Matsuzawa’s suggestion, perhaps hoping for the tweet to get enough buzz that their own bosses would hear about it, leaving reactions such as:
“This. This is exactly what salarymen really want.”
“I really don’t want to spend time with my coworkers outside of work activities. In addition to bonenkai, they also make us go to start-of-the-year parties and parties to celebrate the beginning of new projects.”
“Why should I have to look at my boss’ face even when I’m drinking?”
“If my boss was cool enough to give us some extra cash and a half-day off, I’d actually want to grab a drink with him.”
Unfortunately, with only a few weeks left in December, Matsuzawa’s suggestion is unlikely to gain enough traction to prompt widespread social change and save people from getting stuck having to go to company bonenkai this year. Hopefully it’ll have an effect in years to come, though, and in the meantime, here’s a list of convenient lies to help you get out of this year’s bonenkai.
Source: Twitter/@naoki_ma via Hachima Kiko
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