lifestyle

Twitter comment starts online debate on working overtime

37 Comments
By Michelle

In the land where trains magically run on time every day and no one is ever late to work, you would think the world could agree that Japan has mastered the art of time management.

However, one Twitter user isn’t convinced of Japan’s ability to follow a timetable. The tweet in question was made by an Indonesian nurse who is working in Japan. It reads, “Japanese people are never on time. They are very strict when it comes to being late, but never stop working on time.”

The tweet has gained a lot of attention throughout Japan and was retweeted over 7,000 times in the first 5 days.

Of course, many people in Japan arrive before or at a scheduled start time, but when it comes to ending, Japan is absolutely never on time. Meetings that drag on past their scheduled time and uncompensated overtime are just a part of everyday work life in Japan. My coworker has a wife and kids but stays at work past 7 p.m. at least once a week. Sometimes, he stays late just to show support for the other workers who have projects or lesson plans to finish. I remember interning for a Japanese company in the U.S. where the president and vice president were both from Japan and preserved a Japanese-style business relationship. The vice president never left work before his superior, even when the president was just relaxing at his desk reading the newspaper at 9 p.m.

Many other Japanese agree with the tweet. “That’s exactly right, but if you feel this way, it’s best not to work in Japan,” says one Twitter user. Another agrees that the statement is accurate, but makes the point that “working overtime is the reason Japan’s economy flourished.”

As a result of economic agreements such as the Japan-Indonesia and Japan-Philippines Economic Partnership Agreement, an increasing number of immigrants enter Japan each year. With this annual rise in foreign workers, Japan can expect more opportunities for discussing working hours and an increased amount of comments similar to the one made by the Indonesian nurse.

Source: Nicovideo

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37 Comments
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“working overtime is the reason Japan’s economy flourished.”

Not flourishing anymore is it? All overtime means is that people don't have the capability to do their jobs in the time they should. This is a result of either under-recruitment or lack of ability of the workforce. With Japan I'd say more, with special emphasis on lack of ability.

10 ( +14 / -4 )

I thought that a lot of the overtime was because the job flow was incorrect or people fooling around during the day or people hanging around because the boss is there...

I spoke with a person working at a Japanese firm... She said that her co-workers basically screwed around all day and then around 4 or 5 o'clock they started to work. Many of them would finish at about 10pm or 11pm. She would work during the work day and be ready to go home at 5 or 6pm and caught flak from her boss as not being a good worker.

A lot of overtime is just a waste of time to put in an appearance of working hard instead of working smart.

14 ( +16 / -2 )

The economy's gone to hell, companies are just sacking people easily now. Surely workers will get it through their heads that it's time to stop giving up their lives to their companies, leave work strictly on time and demand overtime pay for every minute of overtime worked. Workers who do uncompensated overtime are simply mindless morons.

6 ( +8 / -2 )

Yeah, I agree with all the above.

I have worked in Japanese offices for going on 8 years now, and the average worker does very little. They seem to find every single way to stretch the most mundane and simple of task over a giant amount of time, involve as many people as possible, etc., when said task could be done by a single person who actually worked a bit, in a fraction of the time.

The results they are getting are demonstrably rubbish too, given the state of the economy and the take-over of various sectors from foreign business.

And yes, anybody playing this game of overtime to impress the boss is a moron; they will be sacked / laid-off just as quickly, and with seemingly no reason, just like the rest of us.

7 ( +9 / -2 )

Meetings in Japan, sight. And when they are about to finish... "wait!" Noooo! I hate them so much.

6 ( +6 / -0 )

Pure fantasy that trains always run on time and that people are never late.

One of my Japanese friends years ago always used to brag how he`d stay out of the office all day and go to a coffee shop with his laptop, smoking and drinking coffee. The he would go back to the office at 5:30 and work till late ... claim overtime pay for it too.

Whenever I heard this stuff, I say nothing but roll my eyes. Honestly, if they were so hard working and diligent like they claimed to be, they wouldn`t be having so much trouble.

7 ( +8 / -1 )

“That’s exactly right, but if you feel this way, it’s best not to work in Japan,” says one Twitter user.

A common reaction from Japanese when anyone is critical "Yes, you are right. Now get out"

11 ( +12 / -1 )

even when the president was just relaxing at his desk reading the newspaper at 9 p.m.

This is the real problem. The thing is that this isn't a new problem, nor is it a uniquely Japanese problem. From the 1940's to the 1960's in England this was a very real phenomenon, where people would come into the office on time, then sit down at their desks and drink tea, read the newspaper, and generally mess about, then work for a bit, then take a tea break, and so on. There was a similar problem in the U.S. a little later. Academics regard this sort of "physically present but mentally absent" behaviour as the reason for the shift to performance-based measures as opposed to presence-based measures.

Being physically "in" the office means nothing. What matters is how much you get done in the time you're there. Of course in Japan the problem is that if you finish your work in 4 hours while your co-workers are busy messing around resorting their pencils by size and alphabetically by brand... what's your reward? More work. What's the punishment for the co-workers messing around? Nothing. In fact they're still fresh at 9pm, so they're set to go out partying with the boss and get a reputation for being "genki", whereas I'm exhausted and ready to go home by 6pm because I've been working hard, and I get a reputation for being a party-pooper.

10 ( +10 / -0 )

I wonder if the idea of the slacker worker till 5 is just a salaryman thing? I work at a junior high school and know that the teachers are working late because they have no choice because of their workload. My husband is in the industrial metal working and piping field and rarely works overtime, unless of course the project needs to be finished by a specific time.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

Many other Japanese agree with the tweet. “That’s exactly right, but if you feel this way, it’s best not to work in Japan,” says one Twitter user. Another agrees that the statement is accurate, but makes the point that “working overtime is the reason Japan’s economy flourished.”

These users should be ignored.

4 ( +4 / -0 )

I have lost count of the number of people I have met who with one breath tell me that they are not particularly busy and with the next tell me they stayed at their desk the previous day until 10:30 pm.

It is almost as though they lack the imagination to do anything other than stay in the office. If the only alternative was to go home and watch Japanese TV there might be some logic to the approach.

I was speaking to a lady who works for a Japanese multinational, who got transferred to Central America. There, she would work from 8 until noon, have a three hour lunch break , then back to the office until she left, all work completed, at seven, when the office closed for the night, and go out and enjoy a rich and full social life. Then she got called back to HQ and got thoroughly depressed at the morguelike silence of her Tokyo office, where people diligently stared intently at excel sheets for hours on end and nibbled an onigiri for lunch at their desk, still too "busy" to leave before ten pm. She asked me why Japanese people need 16 hours to do a day of simple admin work. I was unable to find a polite response.

But until this perception changes that the longer you can spin a simple task out for, the better a worker you are, the population of this country will continue to decline. Maybe that's not a bad thing. If the culture refuses to live, then maybe it brings its extinction on itself.

12 ( +13 / -1 )

They are very strict when it comes to being late, but never stop working on time.”

If people work like this for US major corporations, they will receive poor annual performance reviews with no pay raise as they are perceived as poor performers with no time management skills.

Each department receives annual specific payroll budget, and we need to accomplish all projects within the budget. We are obligated to do so to satisfy shareholders interests.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

One of my Japanese friends years ago always used to brag how he`d stay out of the office all day and go to a coffee shop with his laptop, smoking and drinking coffee. The he would go back to the office at 5:30 and work till late ... claim overtime pay for it too.

You are right. I have seen these Japanese workers. These workers are stealing and raping corporate cash flows with no remorse. . As a matter of fact, these people are tanking Japan.

2 ( +3 / -1 )

She asked me why Japanese people need 16 hours to do a day of simple admin work. I was unable to find a polite response.

I want to know your impolite response, Ivan. Of course, that's rhetorical and "off topic" and the moderator will ixnay my question eventually in spite of the stuff that squeaks by. However, there you might get to see the question first. Don't answer it: Imagination is better than knowledge. (A. Einstein, if you didn't know.)

5 ( +5 / -0 )

Yes, there are a bunch of lazy workers in Japan (and in my own country). I think the problem lies with the poor time management skills of the Japanese. They don't know how to prioritize their tasks and will often be working on more than one thing at a time. Part of that comes from the fact that they must always say "yes" to their boss. They'll be working on one thing and the boss will tell them to do another thing. Then they realize they have a deadline approaching and work on that. Most Europeans I know will focus on thing and work hard until they finish it. Then they concentrate on the next task. Much more productive, IMHO.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

I want to know your impolite response, Ivan. Of course, that's rhetorical and "off topic" and the moderator will ixnay my question eventually in spite of the stuff that squeaks by. However, there you might get to see the question first. Don't answer it: Imagination is better than knowledge. (A. Einstein, if you didn't know.)

philly1 - It doesn't take an Einstein to know what Ivan meant. He simply gave no response. Otherwise he would have been "impolite".

0 ( +4 / -4 )

**“That’s exactly right, but if you feel this way, it’s best not to work in Japan,” says one Twitter user.

A common reaction from Japanese when anyone is critical "Yes, you are right. Now get out"**

Indeed. Heaven forbid you point out anything here that just makes no sense or could be changed - you get told you hate Japan and you should leave.

Japan needs to come to gripes with this. With the way the economy is, companies can't afford to pay overtime - and nor should they have to. If people worked properly here, it wouldn't be such an issue. Then of course, there are the companies that clearly need to hire others but won't because of "service sangyo".

Sakurala, we clearly have had different experiences with teachers. Many of the meetings I had to attend were useless and dragged on. Many of the teachers I worked with screwed around during their off classes, took long lunches or played on their computers. It seems that planning and outside of class work only got done after 5:00. It was pretty pathetic. I had more classes and still managed to leave "on time" nearly everyday to the cried of "iina" from the teachers who played on youtube during their breaks.

If I ran a company here I certainly wouldn't put up with the abuse of the overtime system here. Leeching money from companies to fatten their paychecks. Well known issue here and yet nothing gets done. All in the name of selling your soul to make it seem like you are dedicated to your job.

0 ( +1 / -1 )

If you can't finish your work by 5 or 6 pm you clearly aren't very good at your job. Managers need to do a better job and make sure people are working during the day. But many managers aren't very good either and simply equate more hours "working" with better performance. If the overtime laws were enforced this might change, but they won't be.

1 ( +2 / -1 )

Scrooge, you raise a very interesting point. Most " managers" here are nothing of the sort. They are time-servers without the slightest inkling of how to get the best of a team, given a meishi with a sinecure title on it as some kind of recognition for putting up with the inertia for long enough. In an office I know, there is a group of nine people, all of whom are "managers", not a single one of them with the slightest scrap of authority. Thus, in order to prove themselves indispensable, they put on a pantomime of being seen at their desk for as long as humanly possible.

Saturdays are the best. A critical mass seems to have been achieved of drones coming in unpaid, so now there is a kind of tacit understanding that they all have to pretend they were just too busy all week long, and now they have to show their face in the office on Saturdays too. They come in when they know they will be seen, make a show of looking at excel sheets, and then a kind of waiting game settles in, waiting for the first one of them to crack, and go home. Once that happens, they're all out the door within thirty minutes, except the one with the most cats.

There are times when you need to stick around until the job is done. I expect the Obama and Romney election teams are putting in plenty of hours this month. But if you have a humdrum office job, and you routinely put in twenty hours of overtime per week, you are either crap at your job, milking the system, or ( in the case of the witless crones in my office) both.

5 ( +6 / -1 )

Right now I am studying game development at a vocational school in Nagoya, The SE and software business is very very tough here in Japan and it is widely known that many people work for over 14 hours a day and also on national holidays, also even in the New Year if your program isn't made on time. Also the words "karoushi" and "gekimu" are attached to this industry.

I was talking about how workers should not allow this and how they should be claiming for the Labor Standards Law to be respected to one of my Japanese schoolmates, when he answered me: "Well, that is how things work and people should be ready for it before beginning working".

That was the moment when I started to believe that things are not going to change around here. If youngsters cannot raise their voices and say NO, there is no way people around 30 or 40 are going to risk their jobs to do the same.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

philly1 - It doesn't take an Einstein to know what Ivan meant. He simply gave no response. Otherwise he would have been "impolite".

Hey, hoserfella. That post was tongue firmly in cheek. I'm quite sure Ivan held his in check. (Where his mind went is another matter.) I wonder whether he may have been seized by a sudden and persistent cough requiring a solicitous inquiry as to his "condition."

1 ( +2 / -1 )

I'm sick of this "useless overtime" argument. I do a good ten or twelve hours a week of unpaid overtime. So do all my co-workers. We do it because we care about our job. Nobody's there for the sake of appearances, it's all about doing a good job. The opinion of management is irrelevant, we do it for ourselves.

And I'm a socialist.

-4 ( +2 / -6 )

Another agrees that the statement is accurate, but makes the point that “working overtime is the reason Japan’s economy flourished.”

Possibly true, but notice it's past tense. Where is the flourishing now? At one of the companies I worked at there were plenty of employees that did next to nothing from 9 to 5 and after 5 got their butts in gear and did what they had to do to have the appearance of working hard, and to get the overtime pay too, even though it was peanuts.

What used to work doesnt work NOW, businesses need to adapt to the new reality.

3 ( +3 / -0 )

I am not a Japan basher, I work in a VERY Japanese company as the only foreigner in 3,000 people and have been in Japan half my life. I still to this day do not know why, but it seems Japanese men will do anything to avoid going home.

I can not wait to get home, and casually say "otukaresama" at 5:45pm and am home by 7 each night. Apparently from what they tell me, Japanese men like being at work more than home. I have no idea why.

6 ( +6 / -0 )

I am tempted to be critical about my co-workers slacking off until the afternoon... But then i realised i am here browsing JapanToday at 11:40am...

9 ( +9 / -0 )

You work to live in this world not live to work! Overtime should be compensated 1,5 times per hour after 40 hours. There were people that lost their lives in Labor Protests in my country to secure that right!

1 ( +1 / -0 )

I'm working for a company that has way to less workers to get the job done. Maybe they are calculating by 16h work time a day/worker, but it is impossible to meet the deadlines without doing overtime. Though I admit the working pace of some colleagues is... well it could be better. Time management is apparently non existent.

One thing that annoys me are unnecessary meetings held after regular working hours...

Service Overtime is forbidden (computer log off times are compared to your working hours report) so at least I have no problem writing down every minute :)

0 ( +0 / -0 )

MR Kobayashi Most Europeans I know will focus on thing and work hard until they finish it. Then they concentrate on the next task. Much more productive, IMHO.

Europe is looking really strong at the moment (Greece, Spain, Italy). But I don't like the sound of this hanging around the office to give the boss the impression you're a hard worker. Can't stand those types here in Australia.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Lew Archie, I am spanish and let me tell you that our crisis has more to do with people not creating products and services with high added value and prefering to work as a public worker and getting an easy salary for life from the government. Mixed with people being afraid of risking money to create a company and corruption, etc. Also if you check online you will find that the sourthern countries of Europe work more than the average (although we are not as productive, that is 100% true.)

With that said, I really wish everyone though as you do about slackers at the workplace here in Japan. Sadly most places work this way and it is turning productive and creative people into burned out salarymen.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

There is nothing I hate more than being told how busy someone is. Why would I give a huck? Is it a competition? If you dont like it, quit. Same as the donkeyholes who cough sneeze n blow their noses everywhere. Call in sick you choad! I arrive on time and leave on time and take time off if I have little to do. I take time off when sick so that none of my "colleagues" get sick. I guarantee that Im seen as a lesser individual for it too.

1 ( +2 / -1 )

That was the moment when I started to believe that things are not going to change around here. If youngsters cannot raise their voices and say NO, there is no way people around 30 or 40 are going to risk their jobs to do the same.

Rather the issue. Which is why I teach my students to say no and think about things - that and to ditch Japan if/when they need to.

I still to this day do not know why, but it seems Japanese men will do anything to avoid going home.

If you've met many of the wives these guys are married to, is it any wonder? They are made to feel unwelcome in their own home and in many cases, I don't blame the guys for not wanting to go home.

2 ( +3 / -1 )

If you've met many of the wives these guys are married to, is it any wonder? They are made to feel unwelcome in their own home

But, but, but... on that other thread we were told what a great catch a Japanese wife is, going out of her way to be helpful and pleasant to men, treating her man with a great deal of consideration.....You must have it wrong, tmarie.

Or maybe all those Japanese men are married to fat, frumpy power-crazy Western harridans.

Yes, that must be it.

:-)

1 ( +3 / -2 )

Whether Japan's economy is flourishing or not has nothing to do with overtime. Overtime work is why family life is dying here and why art culture here is so stagnant, also why there are so many suicides and reclusive lunatics.

Work culture places emphasis on quantity and not quality....... time spend busy instead of time spent actually producing.

The key to a healthy society is a balanced life. Time spend on oneself and developing your interests outside the workplace. Work/eat/sleep cycles of mechanical living are a sure way towards societal collapse, which I can see Japan heading towards anyways, due to the inclusion of corrupt politicians into the equation

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

we were told what a great catch a Japanese wife is, going out of her way to be helpful and pleasant to men

That is the "before married" Japanese woman. No women on the planet change more after marriage than Japanese.

0 ( +1 / -1 )

Some Japanese companies just don't empower workers to make decisions. The long process at banks and other service business are indicative. Decisions seem to travel up the chain and back before your request is attended to, in so many instances. Yes, empower women, subordinates, all those with certifications/qualifications, and things will speed-up a bit.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Well said Cleo!

That is the "before married" Japanese woman. No women on the planet change more after marriage than Japanese.

Try telling that to charisma men who go on and on about how great their girlfriends are, how crap western women are... I love it when they figure it out and its too late.

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

That’s exactly right, but if you feel this way, it’s best not to work in Japan.

This is just utterly baffling to me. Japanese people really need to get rid of しかたがない and start standing up for their rights and demanding change. Japanese natives should have a problem with as well, and their solution shouldn't be "go somewhere else." People's lives should not consist of work/sleep/eat with nothing else. There are some teachers I work with who tell me they wake up at 5 am to get ready and go to work and don't get home until around 9 or 10 at night. That's just completely ridiculous.

And then Japan wonders why it has a population decline, well maybe part of the reason is that people are too burned out from working ungodly hours to do anything else.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

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