Taking a look at your employees through the lens of Japan’s culture

It is a widely known and accepted fact that the various cultural differences around the globe help shape the customs and traditions of a society. These norms vary from country to country depending on the residents’ circumstances and experiences. One particular cultural difference between Japan and other countries in the world, particularly western areas, include how workers are regarded by their employers.


In the western world, it is not uncommon for individual employees to constantly shift from one workplace to another. Even terminations or removals from office are not a rare find and, more often than not, are simply considered temporary setbacks, save for those extreme scenarios.


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However, the same circumstance does not fare well in Japan’s setting. According to the assessment by Timothy Langley, president and representative director at public affairs and management consultancy Langley Esquire, the major difference is the “philosophy of lifelong employment” in Japan which contrasts with the norms of other countries. Langley discussed that in Japan, “…when an individual finishes college and joins a company, they do it with the intention of this being a one-time deal: joining a great company and remaining there for life.”


This is the result of the university students’ rigorous year-long process prior to their graduation of visiting different companies in formal business attire and seeking for the perfect work environment. This long-term process is known as the shukatsu system and, as explained by Langley, is a very big deal not only to the graduating students but also to their parents and family.


Thus, when employees are terminated after having undergone the lengthy process of shukatsu, they undergo serious psychological damage as explained by Langley. Making mistakes, lousy work, or poor performance are not enough reasons for the removal or termination of seishain or permanent employees.


Dr. Greg Story, president of Dale Carnegie Training Japan further adds that the removal of an employee also has a negative impact on the morale of the remaining personnel saying that, “As soon as you start firing people, the trust is gone…People are pragmatic. In wartime, you feel lucky when the guy next to you takes a bullet and you don’t get killed. Getting fired is a bit like that – you missed the bullet this time but you are still terrified of getting the next bullet.”


Reference: Cut with care: How to trim staff in Japan


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