Buckle up, you're in for a wild ride!
Many of us think that it matters a lot in Japan if you went to a top-tier university and that sets you up for life. As it turns out, the Japanese companies care about it a lot less. There are more companies in Japan than the top three Japanese universities can staff- obviously! Besides that, though, Japanese managers understand that once you get out of school, you need to be TRAINED to do the work assigned to you! How radically reasonable! Do you know how many people I know are well-educated, smart, personable and hard-working Starbucks baristas? This is simply because companies here got used to recycling a pool of downsized employees since we have mini-recessions all the time now, and those people would rather work for less than not at all. It seems cheaper to hire someone more experienced (though possibly less educated) than to onboard someone well-educated but less professionally experienced. I think this is lazy and downright stupid and that Japanese companies got it right. No matter who you hire- an experienced downsized professional or a fresh graduate, you need to SPEND time and money onboarding them to your way of doing things! There is no instant solution or shortcut.
Another major misconception is that in Japanese workplaces, you can end up being a total pushover when your boss starts giving you extra tasks or when your fellow senior employees start to do that. As a consequence, you get overworked. This, again, is not the case because this is a North American interpretation of a different system. The real deal seems to be that managers and senior employees monitor your workload as well as your performance as part of career planning. Japanese companies rarely fire people. If you're good at your job, they'll keep giving you additional tasks and if you do well, they know they can keep promoting you and giving you raises. If you suck at your job, they won't give you any extra work, they'll let you muddle through the day, and eventually you'll get so tired of doing the same job and not going anywhere in your career that you'll change companies or jobs to better suit your skills and talents. I'm sure there are people who abuse this system, but that is to be said of every system out there. To me, it's an elegant way for people to move up, down and across the career world.
Another popular misconception is that most Japanese workplaces still "party" every night after work. It used to be that a company department would all go out together to something like an izakaya after work where they would eat, drink, sing and joke around until they're wasted, then go home sleep it off and then do it all over again. While that seems awesome to us here in the West, co-workers and bosses having fun like that every night, it's something that's disappearing from the Japanese work culture. In the documentary, most younger interviewees report that they're very health and fitness conscious and don't want daily hangovers either, so they opt out. Also, they reported that no one will go after you regardless of whether you want to do it or not. So, this interesting characteristic of Japanese work culture is changing rapidly, but the idea of letting off steam with your co-workers is still fundamentally there. I would love to see more of this mentality here, and less rushing off to home after work. Also, I would like to see more tolerance of personal choice within workplaces. These days in North America, it seems that groups with differing opinions and philosophies only know how to get at each others' throats and that sucks.
Finally, the biggest misconception about Japanese work culture- they don't work that hard and they actually envy our productivity! Unbelievable? Oh you better believe it. This becomes abundantly clear thanks to one very interesting term that has entered our conversations here in North America- virtue signalling. It's been known and well-understood in different shapes and forms around the world, and I think North America is playing catch-up in this regard. Virtue signalling means to express or show off a certain set of moral or other values on an agenda with a specific goal in mind, without necessarily holding true to those same values. Japanese workers virtue signal. They often work longer than eight hours in a day, they don't leave until the boss does etc. What they have revealed in the interviews, however, is that just like with everyone else on Earth, their productivity DECLINES past those eight hours, or they spread the work across more hours on purpose, because the goal is to virtue signal who stays the longest, works the hardest, cares the most about the company, not work the hardest in the only way that matters- highest possible productivity. As such, they admire Western workplaces where jobs are structured such that people at least try their hardest to get it all done in eight hours. To the interviewees, this is the real measure of skill, productivity, and a true reflection on how much staff is needed in a company (How long will you keep paying overtime until you realize you need to hire one more person?).
So, dearest readers, companies and management here should let us live our lives outside of work and especially during the holiday season. While there are some aspects of the Japanese work cultures that companies here should adopt, the rest of it is not better than ours. Overall, we should treasure what we have while applying small tweaks to continuously improve it.
What do you think? Check out the video as well if you're curious, and post a comment or two :)