Barry Lustig
Jan 26, 2018

No one wants to have a drink with you

Young people in Japan have profoundly different expectations than their managers as to what company life should be. We need to listen to them.

Going home: more than 30% of new company joiners shun typical after-work socialising
Going home: more than 30% of new company joiners shun typical after-work socialising

Workplace attitudes in Japan are changing—and more rapidly than many leaders care to admit. 2018 will be a year which we as an industry will be forced to adapt or be left (even further) behind.

In a 2017 survey of new company employees, the Japan Productivity Center found some important changes in the way people think about work:

  • 30.8% of new company employees said “I don't want to socialize with my boss, junior workers or other colleagues outside of work”, an increase of more than 10% on 2016
  • 48.7% of respondents said “if I’ve finished my work for the day, I will go home—even if my boss and other co-workers are doing overtime”, up more than 9% on 2016

2018 is a critical year in that nearly 50% of all new employees will share these attitudes if the present trend continues.

With regard to motivation to work, the rate of annual change is less dramatic but no less important.

  • 10.9% of respondents said they want their workplace to “test my abilities,” a 1.5% decrease on 2016.
  • 42.6% of respondents said they “want to have a fun life”, a year-on-year increase of nearly 1%.

While we are making plans for how we will change in the coming year, we need to bear in mind that the older and younger generations have radically different expectations of the place of work in their lives and the importance of company culture.

Part of the dramatic changes in workplace motivation from 2016 to 2017 are due to the attention given to the work-related suicide of an entry level employee at Dentsu according to the Japan Productivity Center. This tragedy had an important effect on how young employees perceive work. With this said, the direction of new employee attitudes toward work was already evolving. The Dentsu suicide did not create this trend.

The data in this survey is complex, but from the snapshot above, we can infer that for younger company employees, the primacy of company culture and team cohesion is decreasing in importance. Conversely, personal lifestyle and individual motivation are moving to the fore.

There are a number of operational questions that arise for company leaders, managers and young employees alike when accounting for these trends. For example, how should an employee’s success be measured? How should people be meaningfully rewarded for performance and loyalty? Long-standing ideas about employee retention and HR modernization that are wheeled out at agency leadership off-sites need to be taken more seriously; including figuring out how to deal with remote working and flexible working hours.

That agency managers and HR need to be more creative to retain talent is not exactly news. Where it gets tricky is that employees may need a choice about how they are measured and rewarded. Different working styles and working priorities may need to be treated very differently.

The alternative is that talented employees will just choose somewhere else to work if they don't like your system. Agency leaders may be asking some of the wrong questions when thinking about agency transformation. It’s not about creating a new agency structure; it’s about creating new agency structures, even within the same office.

There is no point in being judgmental about these trends. To increase agency competitiveness, leaders need to care about them, even if younger employees don't care very much about what you think. By not adapting quickly, agency leaders run the risk of sounding like the crazy person in the park who yells at the birds about how things should be, irrelevant and out of touch with reality.

Barry Lustig is managing partner of Cormorant Group, a Tokyo-based business and executive search strategy consultancy.

Campaign Japan

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