Japan’s 'workstyle reforms' are actually making managers’ jobs a lot harder

By Casey Baseel, SoraNews24

One of the biggest buzzwords in Japanese business these days is hatarakikata kaikaku, or “work style reforms.” After generations of grinding down rank-and-file workers, Japanese companies and legislators are finally starting to rethink the way the country does business.

In a recent survey by Japanese medical equipment manufacturer Cell Power, 65.2 percent of the 1,122 middle managers who were polled said that work style reforms have been progressing at their companies. When asked what sort of reforms had taken place, the top response was “overtime limits” (71 percent), followed by “encouraging workers to use their paid vacation days” (69.7 percent).

Those are both positive things to see happening, since rampant overwork has an extremely negative effect on the physical and mental well-being of workers in Japan. However, there’s a dark lining to this silver cloud. The survey next asked the middle managers how their companies’ workplace reforms have affected their own workloads, and the majority, 58.6 percent, said they’ve actually been doing more work as a result of the reforms (40.6 percent reporting an increased workload, and 18 percent a severely increased one).

While managers generally don’t make for as sympathetic of figures as their subordinates, it’s worth keeping in mind that the survey participants were specifically middle managers. They’re not owners or CEOs for whom company profits flow directly into their bank accounts. They’re employees, and while they may have climbed a rung or two up from the bottom, they’re still under pressure to meet their bosses’ expectations, and so many of them now feel compelled to take on the work left over as a result of other employees’ reduced responsibilities. 

“With such strict limits on the amount of overtime workers can do, I’m overwhelmed trying to get everything done that I need to during the course of a day,” said one manager, a woman in her 20s. 

“In order to let my subordinates go home without doing overtime, I’m more frequently coming in early and doing overtime instead,” reported a male 50-something respondent.

The problem appears to be that so far, many companies have been trying to enact their work style reforms simply by capping what can be asked/expected of individual rank-and-file workers, without adjusting the total amount of work they want done. This then shifts the load onto middle managers, who lack the newly installed protections their subordinates have, and also the clout upper executives wield to mandate how much total work should be getting done.

But of course, business is a competitive thing, and simply saying “Let’s just do less work” isn’t generally something that makes for a stable company or secure jobs for employees at any rank in the organization. Because of that, it would seem that the solution to the problem lies in either hiring more workers or increasing the productivity of the workers the company already has.

However, Japanese companies tend to be extremely cautious about hiring more workers than they’re sure they’ll need for the long-term future, which is why even when the economy goes into a recession, Japanese employers are far less prone to laying off large numbers of employees than companies in many other countries. That would leave increasing productivity as the most logical solution, but that’s going to take some difficult attitude adjustments as well, since for the last hundred years or so the knee-jerk response to economic challenges in Japan has been “Let’s just have everyone do a bunch of overtime!”

On the bright side, for all the difficulties it’s causing them personally, the majority of the surveyed managers still think work style reforms are a good thing. 68.4 percent said they believe they’re having a positive effect on their workplaces, and hopefully those benefits will start making their lives better too.

Source: PR Times

Read more stories from SoraNews24.

-- Over 30 percent of surveyed Japanese managers feel intense stress from working with foreigners

-- Survey by Japanese ministry reveals high rates of “maternity harassment” in workplace

-- Study suggests Japanese workers are deeply distrustful of their employers

© SoraNews24

©2022 GPlusMedia Inc.

Login to comment

I have been in management roles in Japan and America. I honestly say that being a manager in Japan sucks and it is a lot of work. The reason it's a lot of work is because companies handcuff managers. Doesn't matter what I do in Japan, I can't properly motivate workers to perform to the best of their abilities. The company doesn't do much in the way of allowing you room to motivate employees. There is no financial incentive. Then you have to attend useless meetings that all seem to be about the same thing so you can't get your own work done.

11 ( +11 / -0 )

If every employee concentrates fully on the work, so all work shall be finished, and no overtime. Efficiency is the point, not number of hours staying in office.

7 ( +7 / -0 )

If every employee concentrates fully on the work, so all work shall be finished, and no overtime. Efficiency is the point, not number of hours staying in office.

Agreed. Can we also get proper allocation of work duties and responsibilities while we are at it? Efficiency important, but that's not possible when firms refuse to hire the appropriate number of staff and start handing off more work to people because...well you're further down the food chain and I can't bothered, so you do this.

5 ( +5 / -0 )

So, the senior managers are complaining they have to work more because of labor reforms? I'm quite sure this has everything to do with the hiring empty-shell yes-men straight out of college or university whose only skills are writing a Japanese style resume. Then, add to this the large percentage of workers are on these semi-permanent work contracts that must replace staff after 3 or 5 years or put them on full-time. Around 90% of these workers are replaced and with them goes all the experience, which keeps the clock rolling back to day one with new staff every few years. This is the employers scam to keep salaries low, but it only effects the productivity and professionalism of the company and heaps more pressure onto the managers. It seems Japanese labor laws are their own worst enemy.

9 ( +9 / -0 )

Rules have come in but the mindset of the companies hasn't changed. Surely they need to ask what the eternal quest to work longer hours really achieves what real benefit it has for workers and society more generally.

Precious little. The few who may benefit slightly are shareholders, but the gains from asking people to stay at work for 12+ hours are pretty small - the longer people are at work the less productive they become.

6 ( +6 / -0 )

Cut out the BS rubber-stamping and the useless, hierarchical (ego flexing) meetings and watch productivity increase. The above point about having a staff comprised mainly of yes-men and women is also a major factor. Stop sending people all over the country without asking if they want to go (employ people from those locations or find staff who are WILLING to go). Oh! And people need to reach senior positions based on skill and experience, not age and name alone. The empire days are gone - live with it.

Japan's going to have to give common-sense and humanity a go in order to keep up in the 21st century...

7 ( +7 / -0 )

A positive step would be to get rid of the ubiquitous salaryman style suits and other company uniforms. Many root their entire identity in this business version of sartorial cosplay. Have workers show up in whatever they want, including flipflops

0 ( +1 / -1 )

“With such strict limits on the amount of overtime workers can do, I’m overwhelmed trying to get everything done that I need to during the course of a day,” said one manager, a woman in her 20s. 

I empathize with her. My large and well-known Japanese company is probably typical. Through the ages it has developed various processes that have calcified and MUST be done. These processes accumulate and harden while slowing down work yet noone remembers their purpose or challenges them. For example, we keep track of certain contracts in a database, in a separate excel sheet that is manually updated by some guy, and via emails announcing any changes that must be sent to everyone. It is incredibly inefficient yet it persists.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

This has been the problem with Japanese companies for a long time.

When there is almost unlimited "service" overtime available to a company, they just have the workers stay as long as needed to finish things.

When there is overtime pay, companies have a financial incentive to invest in efficient processes, like newer computers, better tools, etc. because those become cheaper than paying a bunch of overtime hours in the long run.

Then there is Japan, arbitrarily cap the amount of overtime, but don't invest in making the workplace more efficient. A true Japan solution.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

There are limits on the amount of UNPAID overtime, not on the overtime itself. That requires, yes, someone to do the work. However, if the work really needs to be done Today! Then the company should pay willing workers to do it; not just slough it off on middle managers.

0 ( +0 / -0 )


Have workers show up in whatever they want, including flipflops

It's not uniforms or lack thereof that makes for better work. In fact,some of the better jobs I had involved a uniform (when our team got our work done, we went home - even if just 3 hours [we were salaried]). And flip-flops? I dont want japan to walmartify like america has (pyjamas to school, tattoos all up the wazoo, and having to turn away when someone bends down). One can be professional and relaxed, and not look like they just finished a season of Survivor (dirty half unbuttoned shirt, tattered shorts, etc).

-1 ( +2 / -3 )

Such a stressful life, hard to imagine anyone enjoying it

1 ( +1 / -0 )

Login to leave a comment

Facebook users

Use your Facebook account to login or register with JapanToday. By doing so, you will also receive an email inviting you to receive our news alerts.

Facebook Connect

Login with your JapanToday account

User registration

Articles, Offers & Useful Resources

A mix of what's trending on our other sites