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:
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)
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Given the stigma that Japanese management philosophies have as rigid and outdated, it’d be pretty easy to dump all the responsibility for these problems on the managers themselves.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
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