Some people might associate “salaryman” to robots – passive individuals who routinely follow the mass crowds to work every day, shrouding busy streets across Asia or crammed into tight underground subways.
Beneath the familiar dark suit, tie and briefcase is in reality a hard working employee who is dedicated to their role, and yet suffering from a culture of long hours and a poor work-life balance.
According to The Guardian, almost 22% of Japanese workers clock-in more than 49 hours per week. While their strict and relentless perseverance to the job is admirable and potentially promising for a long-term commitment to an organisation, this cultural stereotype has become a roadblock. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe of Japan are desperate to reform the way that Japanese citizens work to avoid serious issues such as karoshi.
What are the benefits of the salaryman culture?
Expected career choice – In countries like Japan, becoming a salaryman is not only tradition, but it also denotes success. According to The Economist, it is a symbol of middle-class status and comes with a lot of prestige. By not conforming, this is considered a failure, to both the individual and their parents.
Stable career and income – A salaryman is often hired straight out of high school or university and will regularly remain at the company until retirement. It’s therefore effectively a job for life, which provides stability and the opportunity to gradually work up through the ranks.
Holiday leave – Very few Japanese workers make use of their holiday according to an article by Quartz, in an effort to show devotion to their job. However, the WSJ reports that Prime Minister Abe has introduced a law which will legally enforce employees to take 5 days of paid leave each year. Whilst this may sound low, Japan also has 16 national holidays, which is the most of any G20 country.
Strong work ethics – Salarymen are dedicated to their work and are extremely hardworking. Also, because they remain at the same company for the entirety of their career, workers become a tight-knit team or even a “corporate family”.
Bonuses – A salaryman doesn’t receive a large pay packet each month, as this money is saved for those higher up the ranks. However, they do receive a bonus according to the Japanese Times which is paid out twice a year (in the summer and winter). This can sometimes be several months of salary and can be a huge financial help for workers and their families.
What are some of the concerns of the salaryman culture?
Long hours – The 9 to 5 routine doesn’t apply to the salaryman. A report by CNN indicates that 13 hour days, 6 days a week can often be the norm, no matter what industry. They don’t leave the office until their superiors leave, or those who have worked at the business longer.
Poor work-life balance – As a salaryman, the company must always come first. This involves working extremely long hours and taking part in after-work leisure activities. The result is overworked, worn-out employees who have little time to spend with their families.
Poor health – Long hours and a poor work-life balance can take its toll their health. The extreme lifestyle of a salaryman can cause intense pressure, stress, depression and can sometimes have even more tragic consequences, such as karoshi.
Productivity isn’t rewarded – As a salaryman, pay is based on seniority, not performance. This aims to increase employee loyalty but leaves salarymen with little control over their earnings. With the addition of long hours, many workers find themselves spreading tasks out throughout the day and taking their time. This gives Japan the title of being one of the least productive countries in the world, according to Trading Economics.
Reliance on your employer – A salaryman’s “job for life” is in the hands of their employer. They have little opportunity to advance and are often stuck waiting for someone to retire, in order to move up the ranks.
What can you learn from the salaryman?
The salaryman culture is gradually starting to change, with the help of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s intervention. Whilst the days of seeing an exhausted salaryman asleep on the last train may be gradually diminishing, there are still things that you can learn from the traditional salaryman stereotype.
A salaryman chooses a business, not a career. If flexibility and choice are important your career, it’s therefore important to take advantage of this and carve out your own career path. Switch businesses when relevant and seek out exciting new job opportunities.
It’s important to be able to pay the bills, but you can also learn from a salaryman that there is more to a career than just its salary. Working non-stop, with limited sleep and not being able to see family can cause both mental and physical issues. Make sure you enjoy some downtime and create a good work-life balance.
Although a salaryman is rewarded on their commitment to the business, this is having detrimental effects on the Japanese economy. Businesses of today therefore encourage productivity and performance. How long you spend in the office is no longer important, but how much you get done when you’re there.
Finally, a positive element you can learn from the salaryman is their solid work ethic. Being hardworking, dedicated and having strong teamwork skills are all traits that can help you to succeed in your career ambitions. Just be sure to remember to balance your personal responsibilities with your work obligations.