That’s right the rumors ar true, and if you have ever roamed the streets of Tokyo late at night, and then stumbled into a local drinking establishment, you are bound to find a Japanese salaryman sitting at the bar drowning his sorrows in alcohol. Then, if you happen to sit in close proximity, you’ll no doubt hear them complaining about one of the following: their company, their boss, overtime, or their own colleagues. However, you will never hear any complaints about family, friends or even sports for that matter unless of course you happen to be in a sports bar!
Before I moved to Japan, I was completely unaware of how different the working life was. After working for my current company for over a year now, I have a clear understanding of how over-worked they truly are. It is definitely a sensitive subject, but this is what I have seen through my own eyes at my current workplace, and I thought it would be insightful to share my experiences.
The Japanese Dilemma
In my company, all full-time (non-management) staff work approx. 9:30 to 23:00, 6 days a week. That’s a whopping 13.5 hours per day and for a total of 81 hours per week! In Australia (where I’m from), the standard working week is 38 hours per week, which is less than half that! As for the managers, they also come in at 9:30 too, but no one knows when they actually leave. For example, I’ve received emails from work as late as 2 am or 3 am, meaning the managers are still at the office at that time. Shocking as this may sound, it’s been happening every day for over a year now, and what makes it worse? My company trades every single day of the year! They are never closed. Christmas and New Year’s day I hear you say? What is that?
No wonder why we see so many Japanese people sleeping on the train!
I remember when one of our new branches opened (where I’m now working), and from the official first day, my manager of that store worked for 3 months straight, without a single day off!
There are only about 2 or 3 colleagues (out of 50+ in my company) that work a 5 day week. Why don’t more of them take up this option? That’s a mystery!
To date, we have had 3 colleagues leave due to depression or various work-related factors. In fact, looking at most of my colleagues’ faces, they seem like they’re on the verge of exploding!
Even more surprisingly, many colleagues come into the office on their day off, it’s almost like they cannot go a single day without being at their workplace! And YES this is their day off we are talking about, they are not getting paid, they are simply there of their own accord. Consequently, they begin doing tasks and even try to help me with my work! I say to them “what are you doing, it’s your day off!” They just respond with a smile and snap out of their trance!
The Brighter Side …
Obviously, there are positives to this argument, and I won’t argue that Japanese are not highly committed to their role or workplace. Many demonstrate a level of loyalty and dedication to their company or boss, that everything else around them, even family and friends, become second best.
Being a reliable and devoted employee is something every manager and company expect from their staff. The fact that they go to the nth degree to perfect their craft, develop their client relationship or remove every single error from their report, shows how diligent and passionate they are about succeeding in their position, earning a higher salary and climbing the corporate ladder.
However, without some kind of balance, it can lead to disastrous repercussions as we have seen with recent ‘Karoshi’ (death from overwork) events, from the likes of Dentsu and even the construction site at the Tokyo Olympic stadium.
That’s the reason I only work my 5 days a week, I have my life too and I want to balance that to ensure I can succeed in all areas of my life.