Japan Today

Over 30% of Japanese managers feel intense stress from working with foreigners: survey

By Casey Baseel, SoraNews24

In recent years, an increasing number of foreigners have been finding jobs in Japan, and not just in humanities and international services roles like teaching and translation. As more non-Japanese workers start joining the general-purpose Japanese workforce, though, some of their Japanese bosses are struggling with the changes to the business landscape, as shown in a recent survey by Japanese employment agency Persol Group.

In a survey of Japanese managers with foreign subordinates, 34.3 percent of the 872 respondents reported that they feel intense stress because of the challenges the situation presents. Moreover, 17.2 percent of the managers of foreign workers said that if they could, they would like to quit their jobs immediately.

When asked just what sort of difficulties they were grappling with (and allowed multiple answers), the managers had a long list of problems, with the top five being:

  1. Foreign workers are very self-assertive (46.1 percent)

  2. They don’t understand things that are considered common sense to Japanese people (41.6 percent)

  3. They make aggressive demands for salary raises (40.7 percent)

  4. They have a low level of loyalty towards the company/organization (40.1 percent)

  5. It takes a long time to teach them how to do their jobs (40 percent)

In addition when asked about the skill level of their foreign subordinates, 30 percent of managers said they were insufficiently skilled, and only 39,6 percent found their skills to be satisfactory.

Given the stigma that Japanese management philosophies have as rigid and outdated, it’d be pretty easy to dump all the responsibility for these problems on the managers themselves. If so many of those dinosaurs want to quit because they think working with foreigners is too hard, then their resignations can’t come soon enough, right?

Maybe. It’s also possible, though, that many of these problems aren’t 100-percent management issues, but human resource ones as well. Traditionally, companies in Japan aren’t so concerned with experience or specialized education when hiring new workers. Japanese applicants regularly get hired for positions in fields completely unrelated to what they studied, with the understanding that the company will train them on the job.

That work style, though, largely assumes that new workers will accept and follow the instructions of their managers, quickly getting them to perform the tasks and fulfill the roles the company expects. However, a more self-assertive individual is less likely to respond well to this, feeling that if they’ve been hired, it’s a validation of their already-held opinions on how work should be done. With 30 percent of the managers reporting that their foreign subordinates aren’t skilled enough to handle their day-to-day responsibilities, it could be that some Japanese HR departments are hiring foreign workers who aren’t yet capable of doing what the company requires without additional training, but failing to communicate that their hiring is predicated on the assumption that they’re joining the company with a willingness to adapt to its existing systems and style.

This would also gel with the 40 percent of managers who said it takes too long to teach foreign subordinates how to do their jobs. It’s possible that Japanese managers are expecting on-the-job-training to be a top-down case of explaining how the company wants things done, not a debate where they also have to spend time presenting their arguments as to why things can’t be done the way an employee wants to do them.

Basically, for any given gap between what an applicant is currently capable of and what the company expects a full-fledged worker to do, it’s probably easier and quicker to close that gap with a more malleable/humble Japanese employee, at least using traditional Japanese management methods. Because of that, HR departments may be underestimating the amount of time and effort a manager will have to spend getting a new foreign employee up to speed, and that extra burden could be as significant a cause of stress for the managers, even the ones without any old-fashioned stubbornness or anti-foreigner prejudices.

Highlighting those legitimate difficulties, Person Group asked the managers what sort of support or training they have/had received before being assigned foreign subordinates. While responses included specialized training and consultation meetings, almost half of the managers, 46.1 percent, said they have received no support or training whatsoever in how to effectively work with foreign employees, which would seem to heavily stack the deck against them as far as creating a happy and productive environment for both themselves and their workers.

HR shortcomings could also be a factor in problems 3 and 4 on the managers’ list, demands for raises and low loyalty towards the company. Again, with Japanese workers, the expectation is largely that they’ll continue working with the company for many, many years, if not their entire careers, with incremental bonuses and promotions along the way. On the other hand, there’s often a perception, and not always without a degree of truth, that foreign employees are likely to leave Japan in the future. This often makes them less likely candidates for promotions, leadership roles, and other assignments that generally produce more financial benefits for the employee and a stronger sense of loyalty to the company.

As such, resolving the issues of foreign workers’ lower perceived loyalty and more aggressive compensation demands might be beyond the scope of what their direct managers can do, and something higher-ups in the HR department should be doing in terms of helping foreign employees see benefits of mapping out a long-term career with the company. Yuji Kobayashi, one of Persol Group’s lead researchers on the survey, stressed the importance of Japanese companies creating better manuals and support systems, especially with so many managers still being relatively inexperienced managing foreign workers.

On a final, more positive note, it’s worth pointing out that across the board, these management difficulties were less pronounced with foreign employees who were in full-time, regular positions than other types of employment. While 39.9 percent of managers of foreign part-timers felt intense stress, of 39.1 percent of managers of interns/trainees, only 30.9 percent felt that way about full-fledged foreign employees. Likewise, 38.7 percent of part-timers’ managers said their skills were insufficient, with 30,2 percent for interns and just 27.2 percent for full-time workers. Those numbers suggest that at least things get a little easier the longer foreign employees has been on the job, just like they do with people born and raised in Japan.

Source: J Cast via Niconico News via Jin

Read more stories from SoraNews24.

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

-- What do Japanese kids want to be when they grow up? Businesspeople

-- Survey reveals that Japanese women’s ideal husband is surprisingly ordinary

© SoraNews24

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In a nutshell, Japanese managers are stressed because foreigners wish to follow the laws set by the government and believe in a good work/life balance. My former boss (from many years ago) could never understand why I wanted to have dinner with my wife and kids (at a normal dinner time), couldn't accept me having pics of my kids on my desk, why I refused going out for drinks with him so that I could have an anniversary dinner with my wife, just to name a few. Japanese managers are stress because foreigners will not stand for power harassment and too many micro managers out there.

49 ( +51 / -2 )

Since 1981,

This could not have been said better!!! I had a long post typed and hit the back button, and now it is gone. lol. Your points are very vaild here! You speak 100% truth!

25 ( +27 / -2 )

Then there are the managers who have a serious inbred inferiority complex and it becomes worse and their "gaijin complex" comes out even more!

I wonder how many of these managers have ever worked with a foreigner previously as well. Their own insecurities influence their decisions and the answers they gave here as well!

27 ( +29 / -2 )

I can assure them the feeling is mutual!

27 ( +30 / -3 )

Note that some of the imaginary Japanese employees these non-Japanese are being compared with, especially those in easy-to-quit part-time positions, may no longer exist. The low number of young Japanese alive now may not behave as their mothers and fathers may have done.

The other thing of course is that 100% of what is said following the expression "Nihonjin wa....." ("Japanese people are like this") is a generalization. A decent percentage of it (I'll leave it to the reader to decide) is an ideal, a simplification, or is simply untrue in a "grass is always greener on the other side" manner. With the current labour shortage, it is highly unlikely that many companies employing people on a part-time basis are going to get ideal employees. Any Japanese they employ will be warts-and-all 2019 ones.

21 ( +22 / -1 )

and then most Japanese educated "managers" are only managers due to role shuffling and chair sitting and have zero understanding how to properly do their job or advance their business.

31 ( +31 / -0 )

In a survey of Japanese managers with foreign subordinates, 34.3 percent of the 872 respondents reported that they feel intense stress

Especially in Japan people can get promoted because seniority not by their competence, that's why they get stress easily.

24 ( +26 / -2 )

and then most Japanese educated "managers" are only managers due to role shuffling and chair sitting and have zero understanding how to properly do their job or advance their business.

Most workers are shuffled/rotated at large companies. It has little to do with becoming a manager.

-8 ( +3 / -11 )

With a declining birth rate I think its good that foreigners are working in Japan.

12 ( +14 / -2 )

Foreign workers are very self-assertive (46.1 percent)

They don’t understand things that are considered common sense to Japanese people (41.6 percent)

They make aggressive demands for salary raises (40.7 percent)

They have a low level of loyalty towards the company/organization (40.1 percent)

It takes a long time to teach them how to do their jobs (40 percent)

All sound like absurd excuses. Also, why be loyal to a company that doesn't show loyalty or respect towards the worker? Loyalty works both ways. We have different contracts, are not promoted equally, don't receive the same bonuses, and so much more. Yet they want our loyalty.

foreign subordinates aren’t skilled enough to handle their day-to-day responsibilities,

As for this reason, I suspect this has more to do with hiring practices rather than foreign workers. Most Japanese companies and managers covet an ideal look for an employee over what the employee actually brings to the table. So if you are going to hire someone based on looks and overlook a skillful employee because they don't have the look you envisioned for the position, then it will lead to this.

20 ( +22 / -2 )

HR department should be doing in terms of helping foreign employees see benefits of mapping out a long-term career with the company.

This again falls on management. Not HR. Prior to Japan, it was always the job of the manager to evaluate and create a career plan with their employees in order to get the most out of them and put them in the best situation to succeed. Also, managers give out work assignments. Not HR. Also, its 2019. While it is up to the company to also train their managers to better adapt, you would also assume a manager would take it upon themselves to train themselves so they can have better chances of success with their employee.

11 ( +12 / -1 )

Never worked for a Japanese company but from what I can see most foreigners are getting shredded, opportunities to progress are limited, you'll always be the foreigner, best things are not working for a Japanese company but creating your own company, its really a lot easier than many imagine.

21 ( +21 / -0 )

Enter SME type industry where you can easily handle all tasks and become not only manager but also boss. That i am doing for seven years and able to get feature by FORBES Japan.

Key secret is to keep doing right things without shouting or arguing with old managers. When you get successful they will stop to arguing with you. I am doing such things with many big companies retired boss. Now they are afraid to argue with me.

7 ( +8 / -1 )

I’m a foreigner and I’m tired of foreigners at work. So I can imagine how Japanese managers feel.

-13 ( +6 / -19 )

Stressed? lol

Japanese working environment are soooo bad.

19 ( +19 / -0 )

young Japanese alive now may not behave as their mothers and fathers may have done.

I have to concur.

8 years ago at Herbes Plaza in the office of one of the top Japanese trading company, i've seen the start of change in the the attitude of these younger generation.

One is the same age as me, & the other is a slightly senior admin, all of us including me were below 40 years of age. We all went out of the office before 6.00 pm.

Next few days later i was in a factory manufacturing equipment to make engine component in Iga city, Mie. There, i also saw even the blue-collar workers (the majority of them) clocked out of the factory around 5.30 pm. I saw the changes.

But, don't get me wrong. The karoshi problem is still a prevalent one in Japan.

9 ( +9 / -0 )



Japan won't be able to sustain his debt if they don't learn to work with foreigners better. They miss a third of the needed children. In France, this is foreigners who provide a quarter of our new generation and a third partially when only one parent is foreigner. This is the same percent quarter part missing in Japan natality.

This is a consomption guaranty and create economic life, but tolerance to others. The future is about working with your neighbors and explore space with them. You can' if you stress for so little like asking for social normal world rights.

This is a choice for japan to pass their entreprise in international ground and so hire foreigners. This is not forbidden to create community, but this is usually better to create integration to the new culture through immigration. This way, they learn your values and it avoid to have lobbies.

Now, diplomatie make it difficult to open frontiers at the time for security reason like religious colonialism coming back strong, but let's be realitistic about it : japan need babies to pay it debt or insure the payment guaranty.



0 ( +4 / -4 )

I've lived in Japan for 16 years with 3 different companies and never been employed by Japanese. And it's not going to happen anytime soon either. Japanese companies also have the ageism thing too, you can never report to someone younger than you.

The Japanese who work in foreign companies are the best to work with, they are already assimilated.

Some funny examples include a Japanese manager who was being hired who demanded he work over me not under me - he lasted one month (he wanted to give orders but eventually couldn't take orders from our also-foreign boss). Another is the new Japanese manager who so politely asked if he could swap desks as mine was the manager facing-in desk compared to his manager-with his back desk. I didn't budge - he finally got his chance and changed desks when I changed jobs.

16 ( +17 / -1 )

What a cotton wrapped little world they live in to feel stress at dealing with someone of another culture. Pathetic. Oh, and why on earth would anyone want to work at a Japanese company with Japanese bosses?

19 ( +20 / -1 )

that's what happens when old guys with no international experience are put in charge of young educated international employees

15 ( +17 / -2 )

Japanese bosses will hire you, teach you how to do the job in 30 minutes, and they will expect you to have the same output from a person who works for ten years in their company.

When i was in my former employer, I asked for a salary raise which the president turned down because i cannot have a salary higher than other japanese employee. when I resigned, they want me to train and distribute my job to new 7 japanese employee. They are willing to pay 7 people than to increase my salary.

18 ( +19 / -1 )

Some managers are stressed working with foreigners because some foreigners would like to spend more time with family, and give resistance against power harassment and discrimination. I deeply believe that the most important point is to be very efficient and useful to the company.

14 ( +14 / -0 )

basically Japaneses manager want yes men/women they dont want workers who can think for themselves and stand up for themselves. What many consider common sense doesn't make it common sense in reality.

15 ( +15 / -0 )

Needless to say they go on to disparage and generalise Japanese company work culture while not even undertsanding properly what they're disparaging.

its been nearly 30yrs since the miracle economy collapsed and in that 30yrs nothing in the Japanese business culture has improved the Japanese economy , improved the conditions or salaries of its workers. the only thing it has improved is the amount of cash companies hoard. Seems those disparagers might have point

14 ( +15 / -1 )

Soooo many good comments here!!

11 ( +11 / -0 )

Foreign workers are very self-assertive (46.1 percent)

Translation: Foreign workers speak their mind.

They don’t understand things that are considered common sense to Japanese people (41.6 percent)

Translation: They understand them, they just don't agree with them.

They make aggressive demands for salary raises (40.7 percent)

Translation: They aren't afraid to ask for salary raises.

They have a low level of loyalty towards the company/organization (40.1 percent)

Translation: They aren't sheep.

It takes a long time to teach them how to do their jobs (40 percent)

Translation: They aren't mind readers.

These managers will never be satisfied with their work performance no matter how well they do.

17 ( +17 / -0 )

Their own inflexibility is what is really causing them stress. If you can thrive on your own outside the narrow box they almost always seem to be in then you are going against the grain and it doesn't matter how productive you happen to be at work. I once worked a construction job where I had a pipsqueak boss try to show me how Japanese shovel dirt . Mind you, I was shoveling way more way faster but he felt I wasn't doing it 'correctly,' you know, the Japanese way. I basically laughed at him and told him to take a friggin hike. In my office now, I am sure I stress them out but you know what? I don't care because their inefficiency and unwillingness to adapt just slows me down.

11 ( +12 / -1 )

I have worked 31 years with only Japanese Share-holders and Japanese male staffs as co-workers.I can tell everyone honestly, it is not the foreingers that are hard to work with, it is the mean, time waiting and back-stabbing Japanese that are very hard to work with. They never tell the truth, of what they want. They cannot do their job as given responsibilities. The poor minded Japanese turns every little thing into a complain. They make misunderstandings just to save their own necks. They talk more than work. They waste time hurting others. They steal , esp people from Kyoto and Kagoshima. I work with one kyoto borned and , this guy just talk sweetly but could never get his job done which is sales. The new guy from Kagoshima , who was our customer left many other companies before he was employed by the sales guy was worst, rude and always saying sweetly but doing the bad things behind people's back. No, No, No........................it is not the foreigners, we are not born here, why we have to make trouble for ourselves ???. Pls think logically. Not kanjyo pls.

12 ( +14 / -2 )

It is interesting that it is asserted that foreigners working in Japan often do not mesh well with their managers.

Conversely, over here in the States, I had a supervisor who was originally from North Korea, and we got along very well. At first he questioned the way I did things, but once I explained myself to him, and why I was doing things as I did, he came over to my side and advocated for doing things my way. He told me that he admired the way I did things, and in truth, I admired him as well. I wish we had had more people in management like him.

14 ( +14 / -0 )

Can we mention the reason why Japanese companies have left Japan and are making massive profits off the backs of foreign workers abroad too?

7 ( +8 / -1 )

Sure... and about 100% of foreigners feel stress from having to do things at work that are a total waste of time. You know.... like having to wait until 7 or 8PM until you feel you can get up from your desk to go home.

6 ( +8 / -2 )

--and then most Japanese educated "managers" are only managers due to role shuffling and chair sitting and have zero understanding how to properly do their job or advance their business.

If Japanese managers are so incompetent, how did Japan get to be the 2nd largest economy in the world? Even with some slippage, Japan is still a major economy.

--With a declining birth rate I think its good that foreigners are working in Japan.

The Japanese birth rate is not declining in any significant way. There are fewer births because there are fewer women in the fertile age cohort. Their propensity to have babies (what the birth rate measures) is more or less constant.

--What a cotton wrapped little world they live in to feel stress at dealing with someone of another culture. Pathetic. Oh, and why on earth would anyone want to work at a Japanese company with Japanese bosses?

As a naturalized Japanese citizen, I would not want to work for a gaijin boss with an attitude like yours.

This whole thread shows why I as a naturalized Japanese from Britain would not want to have to deal with foreign nationals from the US, UK, Australia, etc.

-11 ( +1 / -12 )

They don’t understand things that are considered common sense to Japanese people (41.6 percent)

Because much of what is considered "common sense" to the Japanese simply makes no sense at all.

7 ( +8 / -1 )

Those at the top (gov't bureaucrats / company executives, etc.) put the squeeze on everyone below - to get more output for less input - and then it all gets passed down. Amidst this, the Japanese way is to do "gaman" and pull together and find a way to maintain the same level of output, if not to increase it, even if it nearly kills them (either because they see some virtue in doing so, or simply because they are afraid to rock the boat, or both). The non-Japanese person then stands up and complains loudly that something is wrong - being the only one who can do so. This causes a problem for the middle managers. The non-Japanese person eventually gives up, because they realize that nothing will ever change. This is how it happens.

3 ( +3 / -0 )

The biggest problem with the Japanese work culture is the total lack of faith in the individual. The feeling is that an individual left to self cannot perform well, so he/she needs to be guided by a group.

I have worked in the technology sector for close to 2 decades in Japan and have seen an inefficient work culture which shows no sign of improvement. These days, when work from home can be a motivating factor for employees, especially the ones who need to navigate through the Tokyo train crowds, Japanese companies and employees stubbornly resist implementing it. The obsession for being in office punctually at 9, though they may waste the next few hours drinking coffee and gossiping, is astounding. So is sticking to formalized wasteful practices , followed, just because thats the way its been done over the years.

The Japan domestic market is going to shrink in size and value, if the business practices do not adapt and evolve, I see a bleak future.

9 ( +10 / -1 )

This thread is getting silly.

I don’t necessarily disagree with the article, or what posters here are saying but rather the assumptions and stereotypes and waaaaay over-generalizations being bandied about without even the slightest sense of irony or introspection. This is just a kvetch-fest.

Not only are readers of this thread expected to believe that all Japanese managers are incompetent, undeserving fools, but also that all foreign workers are somehow hardworking, mistreated and misunderstood geniuses being held down by “the (Japanese) man.”

Super-competent fighters for liberty, common sense and what’s right, aren’t you! You people of the kingdom of Gaikoku.

I get it. You’re all just great and your bosses are losers. You’re right and they’re wrong.

It’s just that as a manager of foreign workers here in Japan, the surprisingly large number of idiotic, overconfident, self-aggrandizing, entitled, chauvinistic foreign workers who I’ve had to deal with over the years makes me question the veracity of many your posts.

-4 ( +4 / -8 )

I think a better question would be, "how many foreigners feel intense stress when working with Japanese managers?"

But seriously, there are good points on both sides. Combine a bit of Japanese work ethic and attention to detail with gaijin style flexibility and efficiency and you have a winning combination.

9 ( +9 / -0 )

100% their problem -- the stress part, anyway. They can't deal with a person who stands up for their rights, and doesn't just automatically to the overtime mentality, etc. And, of course, in many cases it's just flat out racism.

6 ( +7 / -1 )

It takes a long time to teach them how to do their jobs (40 percent)

Just exactly how long does it take to teach an educated person to use a fax machine?

3 ( +4 / -1 )

Nobody is being forced to hire foreigners. Don't like them then don't hire them.

7 ( +7 / -0 )

Are u not one of the loss souls ???.U are writing on this page too.Ha! ha!! ha!.loss souls indeed , are u saying abt yr self. U cannot even allow real opinions. I can tell U , no one is as confused as one, who cannot accept real opinions.

1 ( +2 / -1 )

true all over the world. thinking ducation might improve adaptability is a farce. Education today fails in creating creative men to stand on his own, so education fails all over, but excess dendency like employment .. employees cannot fit the bill of job needs that way india too fails for the govt failed to understand importance of life and living but wasting time on what's established is being wrecked by hindutva philosophy of Modi and his political party, one need to be careful in selecting political bosses who have their own agenda that topsy turvies things like Hindutv does - if civil servants reject political agenda they re criminalized illegally in India.. people ought to know growth cannot be as we want but ought to patiently wait till time becomes sensibly opportune like if foreign workers if fit enough to take up the employments' assignments in a fitting manner, that i sought in india as a mgmt techer.. i said in 1980s placemnts of MBAs is a wrong idea for they ought to be one to create jobs with their own acumen with their real skills.. i said borderless world has failed i wrote in my book How we misinterpret our energy published in 2018.HRD ideas failed. there is nothing borderless world like borderless kingdoms.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

I wonder what percentage of foreign workers feel intense stress working with Japanese managers.

I was working as an Expat in Japan for 8 years, and I sometimes wondered what mysterious qualification brought some of my colleagues into their positions.

7 ( +7 / -0 )

These findings are not unique to Japanese managing foreigners. Severe stress exists for foreigners managing Japanese as well. I managed a highly diverse workforce in my company while living in Japan. I experienced significant stress managing a hand-full of Japanese employees who demanded more benefits, constantly complained that the company treated the foreigners better than the Japanese, refused to do work, complained that pay should not be based on a meritocracy but rather seniority, rejected annual performance reviews, and on and on. While some of the stress Japanese managers feel may be unique to foreigner work styles, much of the stress can be simply attributed to managing someone with very different cultures and expectations, no matter who’s the manager and who’s the subordinate.

4 ( +4 / -0 )

And as for Japanese managers feeling stress because “it takes a long time to teach foreigners how to do their jobs,” the problem is that this approach is completely misaligned with how foreigners expect to work. With greater adoption of agile methods, management performs less training and provides more coaching. Currently, work styles rely on workers to approaches and collaborate to solve problems. It’s interesting that Japan, historically famous for bottom-up management, is expecting a highly top-down training approach. Foreigners are expecting just the opposite.

3 ( +3 / -0 )

Good post Attilathehungry.

0 ( +1 / -1 )

the same applies to Japanese workers in the USA.

They are not well trained and can not work at a professional level.

Japanese education is 3rd world and students are not qualified to perform specialized services in the USA

Doctors and Nurses from japan are not allowed to work in teh USA as they can not pass medical boards and get state licenses. Filipino and Indian and Pakistani Doctors exceed the Japanese and are better trained.

Electricians and plumbers can not pass the State Licenses and requirements.

Even here in Japan hiring local Japanese contractors can not perform and meet US standards for base work. They are lazy and slow, do not understand regulations, violate safety, cover their mistakes and do not make necessary corrections.

So this applies everywhere.

Get over it!

2 ( +3 / -1 )

Japanese people in positions of power in general are little Napoleons; I would never work for one.

0 ( +2 / -2 )

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