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Something that has always sparked my interest is cultural, generational and working differences across countries and companies. My working perspective and working relationship as a U.S. millennial who is interested in financial optimization differs significantly from a baby boomer who works in Japan that is interested in software implementation. Several years ago in University, I took a class that sparked my interest in the working conditions of the Japanese employee and I was fascinated by how much it differed from the United States Salaryman in ways such as unwavering loyalty, a collectivist work ethic, long work hours and the high status surrounding the Japanese Salaryman. In this post, I look to discuss general expectations surrounding the U.S. working environment, the Japanese working environment and strike commonalities between both respective countries.
I believe the U.S. is very forgiving on entrepreneurial activities and certain cities within the U.S. are even more lenient on entrepreneurial business failure such as San Francisco, California. Here I believe you can make any job your dream job if one perseveres by adding significant value while delivering high levels of customer service. It is becoming ever-less common by many individuals to join the ranks of the corporate 9-5 and dedicate one’s life for a company that doesn’t have loyalty to them. Many are now choosing to start their businesses, work a flexible schedule with several part-time jobs such as Uber/Lyft and even freelance work. In these fast-changing times, it is dangerous to remain stagnant and it is of importance to grow one’s skill set when needed. Loyalty isn’t seen by most because one day there will be several hundred layoffs at a manufacturing plant, and the next day record profits will be recorded by that same company. Therefore, many people work at seven to eight companies in their lifetime and head home right when they hit their eight-hour mark. Unfortunately, often there won’t be any notice or an attempt to reskill and retool these workers left in the dust.
The exact opposite is seen by most in the Japanese culture from my perspective. The Salaryman is held to a high regard and he shows a superseding loyalty to his company over family, hobbies and social activities with friends. They value a high level of efficiency, cramming into packed trains and often they must clock in. What I find the most interesting about the Salaryman is they look to stay with one employer for the rest of their career. Also, the workday doesn’t end right when eight hours are put in, if the employee isn’t working on answering further emails once they arrive home, then often they will engage in numerous after-work activities like drinking sake with coworkers. It is understandable to see why loyalty occurs in Japanese culture and not in the American culture. The Japanese lean to a collectivist culture and loyalty is a two-way street. When the workers of a company feel like they won’t be let go without being reskilled and the feeling of having the captain stay with the ship forms a strong sense of comrade within the organization, which in turn leads to significant value generation and employee happiness.
While it is easy to shed light on many of the things that separate the Japanese and the American working culture there are numerous fiscal similarities. Both countries are developed and bring in significant GDP per capita exceeding $45K per year. In terms of revenue, both countries bring in over a trillion dollars of revenue year over year while maintaining an unemployment rate below 8%. The point I am trying to layout here is there isn’t a correct or incorrect way a country should adopt working habits. From a financial perspective, both the individualist and collectivist working ethic are exceptional for both these countries and this goes to show these two is comparing apples and oranges. For large corporations in the U.S, I believe there is a lesson or two that can be learned from the Japanese corporations on loyalty and retooling unskilled workers.