Friday, 11 January 2008

More on global HR challenges: Japan

Last week’s Economist carried a very interesting article on businesses and people management in Japan, Sanyora, salaryman.

Short-term and part-time contracts, mergers and acquisitions and demographic change are all contributing to changes meaning that Japanese employees are increasingly unwilling to accept boring jobs, provincial postings, late night / early morning drinking and their other hardships that come with the corporate paternalism of earlier decades. Work-life balance is starting to make waves.
God job too! In December last year, the Economist ran another article, Jobs for life, looking at 'karoshi' or death by overwork in Japan. In November, a court ruled that a Toyota employee was a victim of karoshi when he collapsed at work at 4am after 6 months of putting in 80 hours overtime each month.
The employee's widow thinks Toyota's success has less to do with its efficiency and flexibility than it has with the free overtime Toyota receives from its workforce. I understand her sentiment but think this is unlikely - long-hours in Japan as in the UK and elsewhere doesn't generally produce greater productivity Indeed the more recent Economist article notes that little work actually gets done in evening working - employees just don't feel able to leave before their bosses.
So its a positive sign that the salaryman system seems to be on its way out. But the cultural and systemic norms linked to Japan's seniority-wage system will take careful unpicking.