James will speaking on the very important career-related topic of "I'm 40 Now! Is It Really Game Over For Me In Japan's Job Market?" at the Foreign Correspondents' Club of Japan on November 20th.
Among job seekers, arguably no group is more negatively affected by this brutal reality than 40+ year old job seekers.
Many 40+ year old job seekers are shocked to find this is the reality not only in the broader US economy but even in vaunted Silicon Valley which is the supposed Mecca of open-mindedness and where a meritocracy has ruled for decades.
And yet, for how bad it is in the US and even Silicon Valley, 40+ year old job seekers soon come to find that it's often much, much worse in Japan. Terrible. Impossibly frustrating. Depressing. These are words that come to mind when seeking employment in Japan as a 40+ year old candidate.
But how can this be the case in Japan, when Japan still has an economy which is the 3rd largest economy in the world and which is moving to further internationalize its businesses as rapidly as possible in the face of both falling domestic demand and a severe shortage of experienced workers.
The bottom line is this: Older, deeply experienced job seekers quickly run into 5 seemingly insurmountable brick walls..
A Comparison Between Japanese & Danish Work Environments & Its Influence On Work Life Balance (Part 3) (Kim Pedersen / Roukan.com)
A Comparison Between Japanese & Danish Work Environments & Its Influence On Work Life Balance, Part 3
By Kim Pedersen (Guest Blogger)
Originally, roukan.com was created in an effort to contribute to the improvement of the Japanese working environment. The reason for this is that having worked for both Japanese and Danish companies in a number of different roles I had been privy to seeing two completely different working environments and most importantly how these work environments affect a company, the workers' productivity and the workers' quality of life. I will try to describe some of the key differences between the two countries below. Please bear mind that this description obviously will include some generalizations so it will not necessarily fit nor describe all companies. That said, it does describe and compare the most common differences and I hope you find it useful.
In Denmark, there are many workers who are very happy and satisfied with their job. They are professionals and they want to make a difference for their company. Further, they are actively engaged in the company’s activities and they contribute any way they can. This also means that they may well find it necessary sometimes to express an opinion which goes against their boss's opinion if their professional knowledge tells them that it is in the interest of the company to do so. This is not only considered completely legitimate behavior, it is expected behavior in the Danish work place. This is the ethos of the Danish work environment: As a worker, you are paid to contribute to the company with all of your knowledge and you, therefore, must speak up when you have critical knowledge or information. When you do so, you will typically be respected by your co-workers and even management for sharing your honest opinions and knowledge. In general, there is a good atmosphere in the Danish work place where the interaction between employees and superiors is sound and healthy. A healthy interaction, in turn, makes it possible for the company to find critical issues in time and to develop lucrative alternatives that nobody in the management layer of the company may have thought of or previously considered. There many advantages to be gained by respecting your workers and giving them the opportunity and right to speak up as well as giving them credit for and acknowledging their contributions.
Compared to this Danish working environment, however, a lot of Japanese people tend to think that work not fun, but a necessity, a burden or duty we all bear and that we have do our best at. Of course it depends on the person you ask, but as time goes by, many Japanese tend to get settled in their present situation and think that that's just the way things are. They are very proud of their jobs, but as Westerner, sometimes you wonder, what about it is about their job that they are so proud of. Japanese companies, by and large, are known for creating “Yes-men”, meaning whatever the superior officer orders, the worker must obey and follow. The worker's professional opinion is often secondary or even totally ignored no matter the situation or the effectiveness of his opinion. This really reality can really damage a person’s pride and directly and negatively impact his degree of satisfaction with life. This dissatisfaction most often comes out on display after working hours, when Japanese workers go to an “Izakaya” (Japanese-style pub) together, and engage in shop talk and bitch sessions about their bosses. And so it goes day in and day out, month in and month out, year after year. It's a never ending story for many Japanese workers. Yet, Japanese workers seem to have accepted that this is how things work as most of them just don’t know any other way nor see any other alternatives to their present situation.
This way of working, however, does not create a healthy environment for the company as professional opinions are often suppressed in favor of the pride of "face" of the manager. Globally speaking, this is bad business but it actually still works domestically Japan, as all of the other companies are working the same way and similarly hamstrung. So in the Japanese domestic situation this kind of working environment simply lowers the workers' quality of life, lowers competitiveness and productivity across the board while it creates and maintains a continually tense atmosphere which leads to high stress levels among the employees. Unsurprisingly, such a tense atmosphere is often noticed by the firm's customers, giving the company a bad reputation as well from the customer perspective.
There are other huge differences between Japanese and Danish working environments. One of them is working hours. In Japan, it is common to have non-paid overtime, or “service overtime” (service = free in Japanese) as it is called. This is the part of your overtime work that you don’t get payment for. This would never happen in Denmark, unless you were hired for a leading position with a fairly high salary. In Japan, it is illegal to force your workers to do “service overtime”, but nevertheless it seems like everybody is doing it. Of the responses we have gotten so far at roukan.com, there are many Japanese claiming that they have more than 100 hours of non-paid or “service overtime” each month! That averages out to more than 3 hours a day and that assumes you worked Saturday and Sunday, too. And please keep in mind, this is for the ordinary workers and staff not for executives holding high ranking positions. When we look for the reasons why they work so much overtime every day, we usually find that it is not because they are unproductive but that they cannot go home before their superior officer goes home or, for instance, because they are ordered to do much more work than can be done within the time frame of their normal working hours. Such a long , grueling working day makes you tired the next day, too, before you even arrive at your work place. It further decreases the workplace productivity (and often quality) creating even more overtime which turns into a vicious cycle. When you then consider that the overtime work is couple with long commuting times, often an hour or more (each way) on an overcrowded train where most are forced to stand, then you understand that for many Japanese, life can be pretty tough.
As a comparison, in Denmark nobody really works overtime without getting properly paid as Danish unions see to that. Moreover, working frequent overtime means that you receive a higher payment at the end of the month. And if you work on Saturdays and Sundays your payment can be doubled as compensation for having less quality time with your family. So if you work one Saturday, you might in return be able to take two days off later. No wonder then that the life satisfaction degree is extremely high in Denmark while it is very low in Japan. In fact, comparing the two countries work-life balance and life satisfaction indices says it all.
In Denmark, workers are usually expected to do their job within their working hours. This means that they are usually more focused on getting the job done in time, so that they can go home at 5 o’clock or whenever they normally return home. After work, Danes go home and spend time with family and friends where as Japanese typically stay at the office late, work a bit and talk to colleagues and then go to an izakaya, coming home very late and having very little time to spend with their families. It is not uncommon for many Japanese to miss most of their children’s upbringing. What a difference!
It's actually easy for Japan to change this practice, but they are often stuck in the way they have always done things and can’t get out of it. It is a vicious cycle built on and bound by tradition.
Japan, by the way, is one of few countries in reporting separate statistics of karoshi (過労死), which literally means death-by-overwork (ka = over, rou = work, shi = death).
I think it is fair to state that the employer has a humane obligation to choose a way of leading the company which is not directly responsible for creating unhappy employees or maybe even causing death or disablement. This raises a question about ethics and morale. However, if it's obvious that improving the working environment does not necessarily cost the company a fortune, and that an improved working environment also leads to higher productivity and thus higher profits, then there would seem to be no reasons for not improving the working environment.
The interesting thing is that if you compare Japanese and Danish workers, Danish workers are far more efficient and productive than Japanese workers. Japanese workers have the worst possible working environment while also being far less productive than the Danish workers who in turn have one of the best working environments in the world. And this is the whole purpose related to working environment -- to find the right balance between working environment, cost and profit and the workers' satisfaction with both work and life.
In my next article, I will go deeper into which areas in a company that can easily be improved without costing the company anything and yet have the potential of considerably improving productivity.
Working Environment Comparisons Between Two Different Countries (Part 2) (Kim Pedersen / Roukan.com)
Working Environment Comparisons Between Two Different Countries, Part 2
By Kim Pedersen (Guest Blogger)
In my first article, I explained the overall reasons as to why a healthy working environment (WE) is so important. In this article, I will try to explain how it is possible to get an overall picture of how employees perceive their working environment, and how it is fairly easily to pinpoint the most critical WE problems which exist in the company. The ability to pinpoint the problem makes it easy for a company to take action which in turn can save a lot of money for the company (this will be explained in the next article).
Please take a moment to become familiar with the charts below. They should be easy to understand for everybody so take a few minutes to think what kind of WE these two different charts might represent:
How to read the charts:
(Please note the elements in the chart)
The chart is divided into three main categories:
Workers taking the survey are asked to rate their company with a rating from “0” to “10” where “0” is the worst rating (or an expression of the worker being very un-satisfied) while“10” is the highest rating (or an expression of the worker being most satisfied). An average is then calculated for each element in the survey, and the average is shown as this chart. Thus, the larger the orange area is the more satisfied the worker also is. Conversely, the smaller the orange area, the less satisfied the work is.
It's all very simple.
The two charts above then show two completely different perceptions of the WE seen from the workers' side. Chart 1, has a very large orange area, and as you can see, there are not many areas where there are a big difference at all. It is a picture of a very healthy and sound working environment. Only one area, namely “skill-up and education” are rated very low and may need attention. As this chart is an average, it means that most employees are really unsatisfied with the company’s policy on skill-up opportunities and employee education. This might be the area that need some immediate attention. It might be found that offering employees the opportunity to skill-ups can keep them from seeking jobs elsewhere, thus, increasing employee retention and saving your company the trouble and cost of finding and hiring new employees as well as onboarding and training them.
The second chart is completely different from the first one. First of all, the orange area is very small, telling the story of employees who are very unsatisfied with the WE in many areas. In fact, only on a very few factors, like smoking policy, discrimination, air quality, and working hours are the ratings high. The average rating of all other factors is quite low. As this is an average, it tells a story about most employees being unsatisfied with most WE factors on the working place. It's the picture, a literal picture, of a company having huge difficulties with regards to many issues. This company probably losses a lot of money because of unsatisfied employees who are not able to properly and fully engage in their work. In such cases it can be very difficult for such a company to find out where to start improving the WE. On the other hand, all areas are considered relevant by employees and just small improvements can be perceived by the workers as very positive and actually have a huge impact on the company's productivity and satisfaction. In future articles, I will address and explore what these improvements might be and what might be the most effective.
The Good News: You Don’t Need 100% Employee Satisfaction:
Some might want to look for a company with a 100% rating or as close as you can get to 100% but remember how you would rate a company if you were an employee there? Clearing the magic 50% hurdle is the key issue. 50% means that you are neither satisfied nor unsatisfied which also means that the worker does not really have any WE issues that they find critical. So, 50% is NOT a bad rating at all. No worker will ever rate a company with 100% in all categories. If he did, it wouldn’t be considered a serious rating. Of course 60% or 70% is much better than 50%, but the point of this can be boiled down to three things:
What does this actually express?
The chart is an expression of the workers' degree of satisfaction, and can not necessarily be a comparison between two actual working conditions. You cannot take this chart and, for instance, compare Japan and the US, and say,
“Oh, the US actually has a better WE than Japan”
Why is that? It's because what we measure here is each employee’s degree of satisfaction working at the company. Japanese workers might be satisfied with a lower standard of WE than US workers would or vice versa. So what we must compare is the level of the workers satisfaction.
It is also important to understand that while the chart might give you an idea of where the WE problem in your company lies, the actual qualitative comments from the employees specifies these details of these problem areas making it possible for roukan.com to advise the company on where to focus and being their improvements. The chart makes it easy to understand where the problems are while the detailed workers' comments specify what the actual problem is or problems are. You need both the quantitative and qualitative measures and details the if you are to optimize your company's WE.
Note regarding the two sample charts above:
1. First chart – a European workers WE in 5 different companies during her last 20 years of employment
2. Average of Japanese ratings we have received to date (“Human relation” and “predictability” was later added to the survey which is why on the Japanese chart these two figures are shown as a “0” rate)
What Is Working Environment & Why Is It So Important? Part 1
By Kim Pedersen (Guest Blogger)
Today's guest blogger is Kim Pedersen. Kim is an expert in Japan business and global working environments and the founder of Roukan.com (Roukan.jp localized for the Japanese market) as well as a member of the High-Impact Coaching Alliance's advisory board.
Why Is Working Environment (WE) So Important?
Well, the simple answer to this question is that it has a huge impact on a company’s profits. If a profitable organization is important to you then you should pay careful attention to your company's WE. This is just one of the reasons why WE is so important.
Another reason for its importance is that it influences an employee’s well-being to a very high degree. From a corporate standpoint, depending on how you understand and manage WE you can either increase the profitability and competitiveness of your company or you can risk being potentially sued and/or losing money through lack of employee engagement and reduced productivity, absenteeism and so on.
The funny thing about WE is that depending on which path you choose you will either receive all of the positive effects or all of the negative effects. There seems to be no middle ground in regards to WE. In practice, this means that you can choose to have very satisfied employees, a good working environment and higher productivity and profits or you can choose to have very unsatisfied employees, a bad working environment and the chance of litigation and resultant lower profits.
So what is your choice going to be?
The choice shouldn't be that hard, but it does seem to be the case that in the real world the choice is hard. As a result, many companies choose not to focus on WE and even more companies continue to associate and do business with vendors and subcontractors who operate under a bad WE.
What Exactly Is Working Environment?
WE is practically everything that influences the workplace, ranging from physical elements which can include equipment, buildings, air quality, desks, computers and so on. It is also about emotional and psychological elements such as work enjoyment (psychic pleasure), the meaningfulness of the work, stress levels, the level or intensity of power harassment, ability to influence one's work, predictability, perceived fairness and so on. There are a lot of elements that together form working environment experienced by each employee. Some elements are common to all employees while other elements are or can be different from one employee to another.
What Is The Impact Of The Working Environment?
As previously mentioned, WE has a huge impact, either positive or negative, on a variety of elements which impact the company's productivity and financial performance. For instance, good WE can have an impact on employees, so they feel strong loyalty to the company, or they feel that they want to give it their all. Better WE means more responsible employees and more engaged employees. If the WE is experienced positively, the company might even avoid law suits from employees who would have filed a law suit if the WE was bad through the goodwill that has been established. On the other hand, bad WE often results in stress, frustrations and uncertainty leading to less engagement and thus less productive employees. In the worst case bad WE can result in direct negative income for the company.
Which Working Environment Elements Have The Largest Impacts?
Well, this is very difficult to say. It depends very much on what the employee’s experiences of the present WE are. However, in many countries, improvement of the mental working environment has been demonstrated to have an extremely good effect on the WE, and best of all, it doesn't even cost much to improve it! In many cases there are no good reasons NOT to improve the mental WE. And if we ignore it, it can be very costly in both human suffering and financial losses or hits.
How Do You Identify Those Areas That Will Yield The Greatest ROI For Th Lowest Capital Investment?
As company, there is no doubt that you want to keep the cost of any improvements as low as possible especially given the current economic situation. However, the good news is that you actually have all the information necessary to make these improved right now, within your own company. The persons who knows the most about your WE is your very own employees. Therefore, the very best way of finding the most cost-effective way of improving your working environment is actually to poll your own staff members to share their honest opinions.
As simple as it sounds, this can be a very difficult task and although it varies from country to country, we have found that usually the worse the WE becomes, the more difficult it is to received honest opinions on the WE from the employees. The reason is that often they are simply afraid to be identified as the one individual complaining about a certain issue. Even in companies with excellent or fairly good WE, employees can be very reticent about being fully honest about what they want improved, as there are always risks associated for any employee who would be bold enough to criticize the current WE. At least until now.
One Solution: Roukan.com / Roukan.jp
Roukan.com provides an opportunity for your employees to give their completely honest opinions about the different aspects of your company's WE. They don’t have to worry that their responses will be associated with them and then passed on to the company so they can be honest and introspective. We collect the survey response and then analyze and summarize the responses into powerful but anonymized charts. This way, it is easy for everyone to see where the problem lies while ensuring that an individual cannot be identified. Further, we will find the critical issues that are mentioned again and again by more than one individual and from it suggest improvements for your company.
There is a world of difference in what the results will yield depending on whether you focus on what a consultant tells you he thinks the problem is and what the actual workers tells you the problem is. Roukan.com supplies you with the highest quality information as it comes from the very source of the people experiencing the WE in your company on a daily basis.
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