Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Japan's current job system and the future.

Hi everyone,

It has been a while since I posted, but today I would like to discuss a few things I have thought about Japan's job system recently. After a few encounters with many working professionals in Japan (including my own relatives), I have pondered a lot about the good and bad of this system and its future.

Japan's traditional system focuses on company loyalty over technical skills. Most focus on hiring based on that person's educational background, and not their skill-set or abilities. If that person happened to graduate from a university such as Todai or Keio (The Harvard & Stanford of Japan), it is likely you can get hired at a very good company and work your way up to the top of the ranks. They will of course train you along the way, but part of the training includes working long hours, strict discipline, and intentional work harassment (as many would see it in the US). The norm is for an individual to work extremely hard under these conditions for the first 10 years of their career, only to finally settle in during their 30's. The work load will lessen over the years and their salaries will increase dramatically as they maintain higher positions as managers.

Salaries will often times include an employee's bonus in the figure, but can change based on that employee's performance. The bonus is paid twice a year, usually on the 6th and the 12th month. Retirement fees are paid through what is called "Nen-kin" (It is the 401k equivalent in Japan) and can only be received after 20 years of consistent working. You must also pay what is called "Jyuuminzei" while living here after your first year, but it is determined by how much you make during a year's time. It is probably the equivalent of paying state/federal tax.

A friend of mine was previously a headhunter at a well-known job hunting agency out here in Japan. When I asked her about this system, she brought up a few good points:

  • If you come from a good school, it is pretty much guaranteed that you will find a good job at a company.
  • Your pay will be determined by the amount of time you are with that company, instead of how well you know your trade.
  • Japanese systems are known to get easier with time and will pay better as you climb the system.
  • It is assumed that sticking to your job as a "Sei-Shaiin," or full-time employee, will grant you a lot more stability.
  • The Japanese government protects your employment - laws make firing an employee much more difficult.

And a few bad points:

  • Japanese salaries tend to be 1/3 of American salaries (or the international standard) starting from the bottom of a company.
  • Japanese companies recognize loyalty and brand recognition, unlike American companies that will pay according to your skill or merits.
  • Your private life is not valued; Your working life takes precedence.
  • You must work your way up, earning your boss's trust ("Settai" Appeasing the client/bosses, "Nomi-kai" Drinking with the boss, and "Zangyou" working of long hours).
  • Age discrimination usually takes place - If your boss/co-worker is older than you, it is an absolute must to pay them your respects (saying "No" is not allowed), despite them being right or wrong.
  • If the individual happens to lose his job in his/her 40's or 50's, many with this type of job background usually do not have a skill (They tend to know a lot of general information, but lack a specific trade); therefore, finding a job can be extremely hard because of old age discrimination/lack of skill.

After learning about these specifics, I started to ponder about American systems as well. Certainly there has to be some major positives or negatives about the American system.. Here is what I came up with for positives:

  • Your pay will be of international standard (or 2-3 times more than Japanese standard).
  • Your private life will be respected.
  • You will be respected by your ability and skills, not by your age and educational background.
  • Your opinions are respected; You are able to more freely voice them (without going overboard).
  • As long as you maintain your trade/skill, laws in the US prohibit work hiring discrimination.
  • Power harassment and sexual harassment are also more strictly enforced.

And negatives:

  • Your skills and abilities are valued, but having skills that become outdated cannot guarantee you a job.
  • Even though discrimination is illegal, it still exists in the US.
  • Despite how hard you worked to get your education, studying hard is not enough. You have to be able to prove your value to a company and why they need you.
  • It is easier to fire an employee in the US. Japan has stricter laws that protect their employees from being let go.
  • Salaries will be higher, but responsibility will also be as well. Typically when a company lets go of their employees, the highest paid are the first to go.
  • Being a full-time employee does not guarantee long-term stability.

With the globalization of Japan and the significant increase of in International/American companies and foriegners living here, can the Japanese system survive? While the American system has its merits, is there anything that can be improved to grant the stability of the Japanese system?

1 comment:

  1. Excellent analysis.

    Each system has it own merits depending on the individual acceptance of what they considered honorable and appropriate work ethic. As stated Japanese value loyalty, brand recognition and familial adoption based on where you went to school. American system on the hand value individual's unique skill set and work experience. Since time and money is very important, being effective and efficient is highly emphasized.

    I would say that Japanese focuses on building of the corporate family and when you gain their trust, you become a valued member, much like a rite of passage. This where you earn the right as true family worker, they may call their son.

    Generally, American system focus on the individual. If you are the best of the crop and develop great rapport among your peers, you will be recognized as assest regardless of age. Performance bonuses, employee recognition awards and performance evaluation are constantly bombarded in the organization culture, therefore competition is survival of the fittest.

    I may be wrong on these generalizations, but one thing i know, education and experience opens the window of opportunity to your career but its the social networking that gets stamp approval.