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Japanese Business Culture Blog

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Why Japanese need work/life integration
Pernille Rudlin
Feb 10, 2014 08:59 AM
I blogged previously about a series of articles written by Professor Shunsuke Takahashi, formerly of McKinsey and Watson Wyatt, on "Why Japanese workstyles are weird". As promised, I will now precis the second article in the series, on "Why working too hard might mean you can't do your job"

Takahashi refers to the Jungian view that there are four functions of the brain - thinking, intuition, feeling and sensing, and that all four were used in balance in hunter/gatherer cultures, but now, in the knowledge economy, we tend to use the thinking side too much, to the detriment of the other functions.

This is a problem when a person then gets promoted to team leader, but lacks the intuitive, feeling and sensing abilities to lead a team. And it's particularly a problem in Japan, he says, where there is still such a division in roles between men and women.

He cites a survey done by Professor Kanai of Nagoya University which showed that those men who most strongly agreed that their family was important to them were the men who spent the shortest amount of time with their family. This apparent contradiction is explained by the fact that Japanese men very strongly believe that they are supporting their family to the utmost by working long hours, becoming tanshin funin (seconded away from their family) and going wherever the company directs them.

But as he points out, Japan is alone amongst developed economies in terms of the lack of participation by fathers in their local communities. After retirement it is common in other countries for men to use their skills in non-governmental or not for profit organisations, but in Japan they simply stay on as advisors to their former employers. This will lead to the deterioration of the community, which is not good for the employer either.

Whereas in Europe most people take up 70-80% of their annual leave allowance, in Japan the take up rate is more like 45%. He links this to another survey which shows that many Japanese women do not go on to have a second child because they felt unsupported by their husbands during the birth and early years of the first child. This dissatisfaction does not seem to be related to the amount of time the husband spent with the wife, more the quality of the support - the amount of empathy (needing the intuitive, feeling and sensing abilities) that was given.

Takahashi concludes that Japanese salarymen need to ensure all functions are in balance - "if the feeling part of your brain has not been used recently, or your five senses are getting dull, then leave the office and do something other than work" he urges.

This reminds me very much of our charismatic Organisational Behaviour Professor at INSEAD, Fernando Bartolome, who started one of our seminars by playing one of Richard Strauss's Four Last Songs. When the last chords had died away, he glared at us and said "if any of you have been sitting there impatiently wondering when I am going to get on with it, then you are already sick!" There was much squirming amongst my classmates, which suggests the problem Takahashi has outlined is not only a Japanese issue.

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