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Last month, SThree Japan, which operates Real Life Sciences, was nominated for a Best Workplaces title in the small business category by Great Place to Work Institute (GPTW– a prestigious publication spanning across nearly 60 countries and more than 7,000 companies across the world. To celebrate the organisation’s 13th anniversary in Japan, we had the pleasure of attending the awards ceremony on February 27 2019 along with 145 finalists who were nominated in the Best Workplaces category.

The awards dinner kicked off with the announcement of the award winners. Whilst we did not win the well-sought after Best Workplaces title, we were truly humbled to be one of the top companies in Japan to qualify for a nomination by GPTW. We were very impressed by the accomplishments of the winners in each category, namely:

  • Atrae – an organisation offering several types of business matching tools, awarded first place in the small business division (less than 99 employees)
  • Concur – a developer of cloud management tool for expenses, awarded first place in the medium-sized companies (100 to 999 employees) category; and
  • Salesforce – a leading CRM platform provider, awarded first place in the large-sized companies (more than 1000 employees) category.

Following the announcement of Best Workplaces winners, Plan • Do • See – a wedding planning service provider and the happy winner of the Best Workplaces for the 5th year running, shared with us what they do at a business level to keep their employees engaged and motivated to work.  American Express – winner of the Best Workplaces for Women award also delivered a poignant speech about the importance of female representation in the workplace.

Throughout the award ceremony, we were captivated by the experiences and insights of key market players such as Ms. Rinako Okamoto, CEO of GPTW Japan and Mr. Minoru Noda, Professor of Graduate School of Global Business at Meiji University and Special Research Adviser at Recruit Works Institute. Both provided great insights into how people’s attitude towards good workplaces has changed over the past year in Japan – especially after the work-style reform legislation was enacted.


What is the work-style reform looking to achieve in Japan?

On June 29 2018, the Parliament passed the work-style reform legislation which addressed key factors such as a legal cap on overtime hours during the busy season, work-hour restrictions exemptions for high-level professionals and gender equality within the workplace. This law is expected to significantly affect employment practice in Japan.

The work-style reform has been established in the hopes that workers will be able to achieve work-life balance and for employers to take measures to ensure their employees’ health. The reform also emphasised that high-level professionals should be allowed the option of being assessed on their performance rather than being expected to put in long hours at work.

The reform also calls for amendments to be implemented to rectify irrational discrimination within the workplace against employees who work on a part-time, fixed-term, contract and dispatched basis. Under the new legislation, all employees are to be treated fairly regardless of their type of employment.


Are people increasingly unhappy at work?

The reform has come about after many years of feelings of oppression within the workplace. Historically, many employees in the Japanese workforce were forced in a job they did not enjoy and obligated to work very long hours – sometimes even back-to-back shifts without a substantial amount of rest in-between.  This is why the work-style reform has come at such a crucial time. Mr. Noda shared that to qualify as a great place to work, employers need to consider two criteria: the healthiness of the workplace and employee motivation for the job itself.

To his knowledge and observation, many organisations have implemented a certain work-style reform that mainly focused on the healthiness of the workplace – for example reducing overwork or encouraging their staff to take leave and go on holidays. However, whilst these have shown to decrease employee dissatisfaction, such factors did not increase employee satisfaction.

Nowadays, employees expect to be able to work in a healthy workplace and as such, employers need to provide better benefits to increase employee satisfaction through better support, incentives and rewarding schemes. Mr Noda further pointed out that it also depends on the ability of the management team in every company to increase employee engagement. If an organisation becomes complacent and does little to challenge the status quo, there will be no progress and this could mean a smaller chance to increase employee satisfaction. Management needs to constantly work on developing their ability to create and promote innovation in order to add value to their team and the broader organisation.


How did Japan’s work-style problem arise?

Based on our analysis of Japan’s GPTW survey results in comparison to other countries, the general consensus from the public is that managers in Japan do not properly assign roles to the right employee with the right set of experience and skills. This is due to two cultural reasons – firstly, there is a strong tendency from management to encourage their staff into becoming generalists rather than specialists – especially in larger scale companies. Managers also encourage frequent job rotations and transfers across departments and as a result, their workforce does not have an adequate level of knowledge and experience to execute the job well.

Managers are also more culturally inclined to find more value in an employee who does longer hours rather than an employee who is efficient and delivers the job in a lesser amount of time. This has led to the common scenario where highly-efficient people are either overlooked for promotions or burdened with more tasks. It is expected that Japan will be experiencing a significant labour shortage in the future and this calls for a time to change the way that companies assess their employees’ worth. If companies do not respond well to the work-style reform, they will struggle to acquire talent and this will subsequently have an adverse impact on the business in the long run.


Contact us to find out more

If you would like to find out more about how the new work-style reform may impact your business or how it’s like to work at a nominated Great Place to Work organisation, feel free to contact us. You can also learn more about what we do by checking our website and LinkedIn page for industry updates.