Mobility - June 2020 - 60

INDUSTRY INSIGHTS

Tips and advice from the global talent mobility community

Understanding Workplace Culture:
Some Typical Japanese Beliefs
By Katheryn Gronauer
While it's important not to lump every individual from
a culture into one label or stereotype, it's also valuable to
understand some of the more commonly found cultural
drivers of workforce norms and behaviors. In Japan, key
differences in cultural values are often cited as reasons
why some foreigners leave Japanese companies. But
those differences don't have to drive away workers-if
individuals take the time to gain a better understanding
of how the Japanese view workplace dynamics. 

CAREER DEVELOPMENT

Japanese people tend to value those who have spent
a solid amount of time following procedures, helping
other teammates, and showing dedication to the company, typically through working long hours. Managers
in Japan act as mentors who present opportunities for job
growth to subordinates from the top down.
Many other cultures tend to place greater value on
results and output as the key measure of whether or
not an employee is ready for job growth, and generally
believe that employees need to be assertive to their managers about opportunities they want to pursue. 
A Japanese manager might find it surprising to hear
career demands from an employee whom she believes
has not yet shown enough dedication in the areas she
finds most important. Her subordinate from another
culture may feel he has produced quality results within
a short time and therefore is ready for more challenges,
and may find himself frustrated when his manager says
he is not ready.

WORK STYLES

A "lack of fit with Japanese corporate culture" and
"difficulty with communication" accounted for 28%
of the reasons many non-native workers left Japanese
companies in a recent survey conducted by the human
resources company Disco.
For example, Japanese people tend to be processoriented, whereas many other cultures are resultsoriented. Employees in Japan are typically required to
check with their managers before taking action as per

60 Mobility | June 2020

protocol. Expatriates who do not understand why may
perceive this rule as unnecessary and time-consuming.
Strict procedures can make them feel that they are not
trusted and that they lack autonomy and opportunities
for creativity. 

WORK-LIFE BALANCE

Japanese companies are notorious for having people
work excessively long hours. A big contributor is the
cultural value around prioritizing work above all else.
Other cultures place a much higher value on work-life
balance. The disconnect can be difficult at Japanese
companies. At the same time, if employees from other
countries do not participate at the level of their Japanese
counterparts, it appears to show a lack of dedication,
causing further tension in relationship quality.
Japanese managers also feel the stress of these cultural
differences. In a recent study by PERSOL Group, a
Japanese employment agency, 34.3% of Japanese managers with non-national subordinates reported feeling
intense stress due to difficulty managing self-assertive
personalities, demands for salary raises, and low indication of loyalty to the company. 

PICTURE THIS

Expatriates who have pictured themselves in the role
of a Japanese manager have found it easier to recognize
the benefits of abiding to protocols. But knowledge of
cultural differences alone is not enough. Ideally, Japanese
companies, too, would take into account the work
values of their foreign counterparts and identify areas of
compromise to increase the likelihood of retaining global
talent. Both Japanese companies and expatriates would
also benefit from having open conversations about workplace expectations regarding work quality and participation during the hiring process.  M
Katheryn Gronauer designs and delivers cross-cultural
integration and employee wellness programs to
international companies in Japan. She can be reached at
katheryn@thrivetokyo.com or www.thrivetokyo.com.


http://www.thrivetokyo.com

Mobility - June 2020

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