Mar 29, 2017
Hey Boss, Teach Your Japanese Staff How To Relax
METI (Ministry of Economy, Trade and industry), and the peak industry bodies the Keidanren (Japan Business Federation) and the Japan Chamber of Commerce and industry have launched their Premium Friday campaign, encouraging firms to allow their workers to depart early on the last Friday of each month. Approximately 70% of the Japanese economy is based on domestic consumption and the idea is to give consumers more time to consume, thus stimulating the economy. All good stuff, but there is a deeper problem for companies than more consuming.
Parkinson’s law that “work expands to fill the time available for its completion” fits Japan perfectly. The very long hours spent in work in japan are producing work at a relatively glacial pace. There is a surprisingly slow rhythm here in white collar work. If you want to see work being done at a fast clip, then look at the manufacturer’s factories and the construction industry.
Big city office workers though are a different breed. They spend long hours commuting during the peak times. Why? They need to live far away to have affordable accommodation and they can’t get up any earlier to miss the crowds, because they are staying up so late every evening.
Now we have a constant rhythm in operation. Go to bed late, get up without enough sleep, so automatically feel tired, struggle through the morning commute and arrive at the office exhausted. Leave the office very late every evening. Repeat every working day of your entire miserable working life.
This is the brain era. We have the fastest communication technology in history available to us. We have total connectivity, so we are plugged into everything. Speed and mental sharpness should be our forte but often it is not. People seem unable to turn work around speedily. They are tired, so their work speed has slipped into a cycle of slow execution. Tired people are rarely creative or enjoy great acuity. Every other firm is the same, so nothing seems out of the norm here.
If you come form a different country, then you see the speed factor is much slower here. The caution around mistakes does slows down the decision making process. This and the tiredness slows down the execution. The upshot is things take longer to get done here. Now they probably get things done here, without as much rework, due to better attention to detail. Mistakes can be common in our countries.
Wouldn’t it be brilliant though if we could take that Japanese attention to detail and speed everything up a bit and get the best of both worlds. This won’t happen by itself!
To get better speed, we need to change the pace of work from the current slow state to a faster cycle. Parkinson’s study showed that the more time we allow for working, the staff will have no trouble filling up the hours. Japanese societal work pride is attached to input of hours not speed of output. The issue though is the same amount of productivity could be achieved in less hours. If we can get to this point, then people can go home earlier. They can spend time on hobbies, with families and friends, go shopping, go out eating, etc. This would have a lot more impact than a couple of hours once a month on the Premium Friday.
Having set finishing times which are early is a good idea. For most office workers, why does anyone have to work past 6.00pm? Making people apply first and justify the need for overtime is also a way to monitor work productivity. You can substantially boost your income by working overtime in Japan, so that is a natural stimulant to working long hours.
You start to put boundaries around how much time is needed to produce the same amount of work. This will positively impact the work pace. On the flip side though, we need to help our people to relax. Just forcing them into a work hyper-accelerator tube may blow them up, unless the lifestyle changes accompany the process.
In my observation, Japanese are not much good at relaxing. I am an Aussie and we are experts at relaxing. Japanese are reluctant to take long vacations still, so they never get that longitudinal benefit of time off. Culturally, they have trouble slowing down. I remember seeing Japanese on holiday in Australia. They don’t go swimming or lie on the gorgeous, golden beaches and relax. They take a photo together, with everyone flashing the peace sign and with the beach in the background. They then head off to the next location to repeat the same process all day. They get tired, so they sleep on the bus or train and then don’t see any of the scenery. They come back to work exhausted from the holiday.
We need to encourage them to take more time off, to really slow down and relax, to re-charge. Getting away from work is necessary to think afresh about what you are doing. This simple thing still eludes most Japanese. Taking two or three weeks off in a row, should be seen as a good thing, not some traitorous misdemeanor. While we are at work though, let's work like legends, punch it out and go home.
Engaged employees are self-motivated. The self-motivated are inspired. Inspired staff grow your business but are you inspiring them? We teach leaders and organisations how to inspire their people. Want to know how we do that? Contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org
About The Author
In the course of his career Dr. Greg Story has moved from the academic world, to consulting, investments, trade representation, international diplomacy, retail banking and people development. Growing up in Brisbane, Australia he never imagined he would have a Ph.D. in Japanese decision-making and become a 30 year veteran of Japan.
A committed lifelong learner, through his published articles in the American, British and European Chamber journals, his videos and podcast “THE Leadership Japan Series”, he is a thought leader in the four critical areas for business people: leadership, communication, sales and presentations. Dr. Story is a popular keynote speaker, executive coach and trainer.
Since 1971, he has been a disciple of traditional Shitoryu Karate and is currently a 6th Dan. Bunbu Ryodo (文武両道-both pen & sword) is his mantra and he applies martial art philosophies and strategies to business.