The Changing Post-Pandemic Attitudes of Japanese Workers
[March 31, 2021] BY Shinji Ineda
How the attitudes of Japanese companies are shifting as the pandemic continues
The Japanese government declared another state of emergency on January 7, 2021, signaling that the pandemic was still far from over. But hope around control of the virus, stemming from the previous year’s restrictions and the need to earn money, still holds strong in Japanese society. And although there have been signs of a return to the old ways of working and living, the restrictions are not likely to loosen any time soon.
Under these circumstances, companies are more aware than ever of the importance of addressing the pandemic-era work styles, acknowledging that they are not temporary, but long-term business continuation strategies. But it is not only corporations that are thinking from such a perspective– Japanese workers are, too.
Japanese workers are becoming more conscious of the way they work
In a survey conducted by the editorial department of Worker’s Resort in December 2020, 74% of the 500 Japanese respondents responded that the coronavirus pandemic has caused them to think about the way they will work in the future. Until now, it was the Japanese government and corporations who were driving work style reforms, but it seems that attention to these efforts is shifting to the workers too. In light of this new reality, companies will want to keep a close look at changes in workers’ attitudes. By exploring the attitudes revealed in this survey, we will examine the increase in the types of work styles in Japanese society in 2021 and the work environment that will set the stage for these new styles.
Survey on the changes in values due to the increase in types of work styles
Method: Japanese web-based questionnaire survey
Target: (1) Gender: male and female (2) Age: 20-59 years old (3) Place of residence: Japan
Sample size: n=500 (300 working adults and 200 students)
Date: December 2020
Work style is the third most important factor for Japanese people when choosing where to work
Let’s first review the factors around selecting where to work. Until now, Japanese companies have conveyed the appeal of their organization to job seekers by sharing information on the business and job responsibilities, salary and other benefits, the people, and the corporate culture. So, how much does each of these points resonate with job seekers? To answer this question, we set up the following question.
What is noteworthy here is that after “the type of work or business” (36.8%) and “salary, bonuses, and retirement benefits” (31.4%), “working style (one that fits your lifestyle)” (15.4%) came in third. Perhaps due to the fact that there are now more options than the previous standard way of working, people want a work style that matches their lifestyle.
Companies have always been trying to come up with inventive ways to recruit employees. But in the future, initiatives around progressive working styles will likely also be a key factor in recruitment. Since attitudes toward work styles differ among working adults and students, it is important to develop more attractive work styles going forward. This is especially relevant for new graduates, as they place emphasis on work styles that match their lifestyle.
Office design, which we have covered in the past on this site, came in 7th place in the survey. However, the office is still the first thing that a company has ownership over and is a medium for communicating the appeal of an organization. In addition to the role that office design has played in the past, its connection to work style will become even more important in the future.
Flexible working hours are in demand
When we asked a more specific question about how Japanese workers want to work, “flexible working hours” came in first at 40.6%. This indicates that there is a strong focus on time. The experience of being able to adjust and make effective use of commute and travel time may have contributed to the rise in workers’ awareness of time.
On the other hand, 17.8% of respondents selected “flexible work location,” which ties in with the fact that many companies have implemented measures such as remote work in the wake of the pandemic. This was lower than the percentage who answered “diverse types of employment” (19.0%).
In addition, as shown in the graph below, 63.7% of the respondents chose “I want to go to the office almost every day” when asked about their preferred working style after the end of the pandemic. This indicates that many Japanese companies have yet to solve the problems of inefficient communication and weakening ties that were brought to light by the sudden remote work forced on them, and that many Japanese people still consider the office as the best solution for their working environment. In order to provide a more convenient commute or to reduce office costs, many companies in Japan are considering decentralizing their offices through remote work or flexible offices such as coworking spaces. However, even in this situation, it is important to implement well-balanced, step-by-step measures while listening to employees’ viewpoints.
Virtual office oVice
(Image from oVice)
Virtual offices such as oVice and Remo have seen a rapid increase in the number of users since 2020. They are remote communication tools that enable employee “chit-chat,” allowing for a real-time feel that is lacking in email and online chats. One option is to use such tools in conjunction with the physical world.
Life Events and Places of Residence in the Long Run
Following the company selection factors, we now turn our attention to Japanese workers’ attitudes around lifestyles. When asked about life events (marriage, childbirth, childcare, nursing care, etc.) and work styles, 34.8% of respondents said they would like to change their work style in accordance with life events, which was higher than the 23.2% who said they would like to keep the same work style as much as possible regardless of life events.
In the past, Japanese society did not allow for various work styles, so people often had to compromise when weighing life and work. As the number of work styles expands in the future, it is likely that more and more people will change the way they work in accordance with life events.
Respondents were also asked about their future place of residence: “If your work location and hours were flexible, would you consider moving from your current residence in the future? Or, have you moved since it became possible to do so?” More than 35% of respondents answered affirmatively.
In the short term, the ability to change one’s location depends on their respective company’s system. If there is no option to move, it may be necessary to change jobs. However, if a company’s resources and infrastructure allow its employees to change locations, it could be possible to change one’s place of residence without changing companies. Considering this, some workers are likely to anticipate lifestyle changes over the long term.
GREEN WORK HAKUBA, a resort work program in Hakuba, Nagano
(Image from GREEN WORK HAKUBA)
Travel agencies and local regions are expecting more work vacations, or “workations,” which have been expanding in Japan in recent years, and are working to provide these types of places. There are many subdivisions of workations, such as staycations and “bleisure” (business leisure) travel, but it would be interesting to try using workations as a glimpse into a possible future lifestyle.
What do Japanese workers prioritize: themselves or the organization?
Lastly, let’s touch on the Japanese worker’s relationship between the organization and the individual. As the boundaries between life and work shift due to the expansion of types of work styles, the relationship between the individual and the organization becomes more complex and diverse.
How do Japanese workers currently position the individual and the organization? We first asked about personal versus organizational priorities. While around 60% of the respondents answered that “both are equally important” or “I would determine the priority based on the situation at that time,” about 40% of Japanese workers answered that either personal or organizational priorities should come first.
Many Japanese people believe that it is important to adapt to each situation and make balanced decisions in order to handle various situations. However, we should not forget the fact that various values exist within an organization. In Japanese society, it is important to respect the ideas of others as well as one’s own.
Preferred evaluation systems and the work environment
The next question about current and desired job evaluations revealed differences between those who preferred merit-based, seniority-based, and effort-based systems. One interesting result was the difference in evaluation preferences depending on the aforementioned priorities around the individual versus the organization.
The respondents to the question about prioritization of the individual versus the organization were divided into three groups: the organization-first group (those who answered that the organization is the priority), the balanced group (those who answered that both were equally important or that it was necessary to decide which should be prioritized depending on the situation at the time), and the individual-first group (those who answered that the individual is the priority).
The results showed that the organization-first group tended to favor performance-based evaluation, the balanced group favored effort-based evaluation, and the individual-first group favored merit-based evaluation and position-based evaluation. The results were almost the same when comparing the three categories– total participants, working adults, and students.
*The items in blue represent the average value. The items in yellow highlight are those that exceed the average value and fall into the top two most ticked responses within each group.
Depending on the company, there are some evaluation indicators that make it difficult for managers to make appropriate evaluations or for employees to accept the evaluations given to them. In addition to how the organization wants to evaluate its employees, it is important that they are aware of the employees’ values and how they wish to be evaluated. Companies must take these facts into consideration when developing their evaluation systems and working styles.
The importance of increasing the value of the employee experience
In this article, we touched on three areas of Japanese workers’ perceptions based on the results of the questionnaire survey: the central factors around choosing where to work, way of life, and the relationship between the organization and the individual.
Discussions around work location tend to focus on building flexible systems to cope with situational changes and creating offices with a high sense of purpose. However, the places where employees work will not be limited to the physical workplace going forward. Increasing the overall value of the employee experience by paying close attention to the perceptions of workers and looking at their lifestyles beyond the office will lead to sustainable relationships and work styles in the future.
The ultimate goal is to create an environment where employees are ready and willing to work. The insights revealed in this article can hopefully lead to work styles that allow more Japanese workers to develop such attitudes.
Writer of this post
Shinji InedaWhile working as an executive officer in the design division at FRONTIER CONSULTING, he provides to companies and people information about the office environments and working styles mainly on the West Coast from the U.S. branch office.
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