Monday, January 26, 2009

Japanese Companies and Layoffs

Layoffs are no fun for anyone, but in Japan layoffs are a cultural taboo that Japanese companies do everything they can to avoid.

As the global economic crisis hits Japan, Japanese companies are cutting temporary and contract workers, stopping production and asking employees to take pay cuts, all in an effort to avoid layoffs, which still rattle the Japanese to the bone.

Until recently, lifetime employment was one of those things - like death and taxes - that the Japanese people could count on, yet global competition has forced Japanese companies to stay competitive by shedding workers and cutting costs.

'Working hard' for a Japanese company has an almost religious importance to it, and a layoff is tantamount to being ostracized from one's faith community. One hears tales of laid off Japanese salarymen (business men) who can't bear to tell their wife they've been laid off, so instead, they get up each morning, put on their dark business suit and go to the local manga (comic book) shop to read manga and sip coffee all day.

Japanese group identity can't be underestimated; and for most men in Japan, their corporate affiliation is something akin to their "tribe," which is often more important than the individual job or role they perform at the company.

When you lay a man off in the west you take away his salary and much of his social life - when you lay a man off in Japan, you take away his salary and you bring shame upon him and his family.

It's serious stuff in Japan and we hope that Japanese culture and society can accommodate the many men who may be losing their jobs in the months to come.

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