With rules regarding everything from tea to elevators, some new employees think it’s all too much.
As we recently looked at, the heavy importance Japan places on etiquette can, in some instances, end up having the opposite of the intended effect. So it stands to reason that if some people don’t find it particularly beneficial to be on the receiving end of such standardized acts of attempted respect and kindness, they don’t see the point in doing them for others, either.
Yet manners remain incredibly important in Japan, especially in professional environments. But since culture is a constantly evolving thing, some young employees don’t understand the customs pushed upon them by their older coworkers.
Internet portal R25 and I Research recently polled 200 participants, 100 men and 100 women, all of whom have been working in their companies for three years or less, and asked them what business manners they feel are unnecessary. Respondents listed their top three picks, with their number-one choice getting three points, their number-two two, and their number-three one. When all the points were tallied, the top five were:
- Being expected to notify your office that you’ll be missing work by phone instead of email or Line message (49 points)
If you’ve got a stomach flu or high fever, no doubt you’d rather fire off a quick “I won’t be in today” email and go right back to bed, as opposed to calling the office, navigating the phone tree, and being put on hold just to finally tell your supervisor the same thing with your own voice. Still, some managers insist on a phone call, either because it demands more immediate attention and lets them know they’ll be short one set of hands for the day, or maybe so that they can judge just how sick the absent employee really sounds.
- When seeing a client off at the elevator, having to continue bowing until the doors close completely (62 points)
Much like how classy retail shops in Japan will walk their customers to the exit after they make a purchase, it’s customary to accompany your client to the elevator after a meeting that takes place above the first floor of a building. Since the amount of respect a bow conveys is directly tied to how long it lasts, traditional etiquette dictates that you remain bent at the hips until the elevator doors cut off your client’s view. If you misestimate how long it’ll take the doors to close, though, you’re left with an awkwardly long and uncomfortable gesture.
3, After being served tea at a client’s office, not taking a sip until your client does so first (85 points)
t the start of a meeting, usually a junior staff member will serve tea to everyone in attendance. However, immediately gulping down the beverage makes it look like you’re more interested in the free drinks than forging a successful business relationship. It’s more polite to wait for your counterpart to take a sip first, but herein lies the paradox, since often he’ll be waiting for you to take the first sip, especially if you’re a guest in his office and he wants to appear a gracious host.
The end result is often two thirsty businesspeople with cups of full, lukewarm tea in front of them.
- Picking up the phone before it rings for a third time (98 points)
This one is actually a bit puzzling, since it sort of seems like common sense that if the phone is ringing, it’s a good idea to answer it as soon as you can, even if it’s just to tell the person on the other end to please hold. Maybe it’s the oft-demanded limit of “two rings or less” that irks some younger workers, such as the 25-year-old woman who made this one of her picks while saying “I can’t be worrying about the phone all the time.”
- Having to be at your desk five minutes before work starts (102 points)
Perhaps as a reaction to how many jobs in Japan demand employees work overtime whenever the company wants them to, the top choice from survey respondents was the common expectation that employees be at their desks, ready to go, at least five minutes before their shift begins.
While punctuality is of course important, the implication that being on time means you’re actually late irked a large number of respondents. This makes sense when you take into account the young age of those polled. Having been at their companies for a short time, few, if any, of them are likely to be managers, so those five pre-start minutes might be spent just twiddling their thumbs and waiting for their boss to give the their tasks for the day.
There’s also the slippery slope that when five minutes early is the new on-time, expectations can shift, and suddenly in order to prove yourself an enthusiastic, conscientious worker, you’ll need to show up 10, or 15, minutes early. That then leads to the danger of a manager saying, “Well, since everyone’s already here, let’s get started,” and before you know it, you’re working not just overtime after your shift is supposed to end, but also before it should start (would that be called “undertime?”).
Still, with all the little things that can go wrong at the start of the day as computers boot up and messages come in, it’s not completely unreasonable for senior employees to want a bit of buffer time so that work can actually get started on schedule. There’s also the fact that of the 200 people I Research polled, nearly half, 49 percent, said they didn’t have any complaints involving the business manners they were expected to adhere to.
So while some new employees don’t see the point of some of these customs, odds are they’re not going away anytime soon, at least until those who disagree with them work their way high enough up the corporate ladder to start making the rules themselves.
Source: R25 via Hachima Kiko
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