Going out to see cherry blossoms, regardless of the weather, is by far Japan’s favorite springtime activity. But there’s another tradition that’s almost as enthusiastically followed: veteran employees complaining about the new hires at their company.
The business year starts in April in Japan, which means that right now at companies across Japan older employees are grumbling about how the younger generation just doesn’t get it. But with Japanese homes not having lawns for their upset elders to yell at them to get off of, just what are young professionals in Japan doing that’s rubbing their coworkers the wrong way?
The economy is always a topic of conversation in Japan. Twitter user Mosha no Meruze recently shared this photo of a TV news program reporting on the results of a survey that asked senior employees what surprised them about their companies’ newest workers.
模写のめるぜ (@mruzea) April 08, 2015
Actually, some poking around reveals that the results, and perhaps the picture, actually come a poll done in January of last year by Goo Ranking. Nonetheless, Mosha no Meruze’s timely tweeting, coming just one week after this year’s college grads started their careers, has people talking, so let’s take a look at the top five complaints.
5. Without prior notice, young employees come late, leave early, and miss work
All these violations were lumped together, so we don’t have any statistics on the breakdown between the three. As in other countries, new employees showing up late is unfortunately all too common, and not showing up at all without calling in to say you need a day off is obviously an even bigger problem (although our experience working in Japanese offices would seem to point to this being something that happens only rarely).
As for employees simply sneaking out before quitting time? We can’t recall any of our coworkers ever pulling that stunt, but nonetheless, it’s technically a part of the number five response.
4. Even when someone is explaining to them how to do their work, they don’t take notes
There is, of course, the possibility that the new recruit simply has the mental capacity to keep up with the explanation and retain everything in his head. As the new guy in the office, though, it might be better business etiquette to at least make a show of jotting down a few notes, if for no reason other than to prove you’re paying attention.
3. They can’t use polite speech
This is a particularly tough hurdle in Japan, since the Japanese language has two different classes of polite speech. One shows respect for the person you’re talking to, and the other implies humility about yourself.
Intimidating as the concept may sound, something similar happens in English. For example, if a flight attendant says, “I’d be happy to bring you a refill for your beverage” and “Would you mind stowing your tray?” both sound totally natural. On the other hand, “I wouldn’t mind bringing you a refill” and “Would you be happy to stow your tray?” Not so much.
The Japanese language, though, has a particularly large number of phrases and speech patterns that clearly differentiate whether you’re speaking with respect or humility, and keeping them straight (or remembering to use them at all) can be difficult for new employees, especially when the relatively little amount of discussion between Japanese educators and their pupils, even in college-level academics, means most students don’t acquire much experience speaking to people at higher organizational levels than themselves.
2. They can’t give a proper greeting
This issue could very well be tied to the one above. If you’re not used to speaking with your organizational superiors, but are vaguely aware that there’s a whole linguistic protocol that dictates the right and wrong way to do it, there’s a chance you’ll adopt the defensive strategy of just keeping quiet until you’re spoken to.
The downside, though, is that doing so can make you look sullen or unenthusiastic about your job, so even if you feel a little self-conscious early on, you’re better off giving a confident “Ohayou gozaimasu!” as you enter the office (even though it literally means “good morning,” it’s the standard way to say hello to your coworkers when you see them in-person for the first time that day, regardless of the time on the clock).
1. They do what they’re told to do, but nothing else
Now we come to the most divisive response. Comparatively, Japanese society values and respects experience, and a commonly repeated maxim is “Migi ni narae,” which literally means “Follow the lead set by the right,” referring to the traditional way of writing Japanese text in vertical columns from right to left. In other words, look at the tried-and-true methods those more experienced than you have developed, and follow them.
On the other hand, even in Japan, there’s a certain minimum amount of initiative managers want employees to take, and while it might not be as much as in western companies, it’s certainly more than “absolutely none.”
However, the timing of Mosha no Meruze’s tweet, coming just one week after new employees started their jobs, had many Internet users taking issue with this exasperated desire that young workers make more of an effort to think for themselves.
“I’m still not accustomed to my workplace, or my work responsibilities, and I can’t always get even the things I’m told to do to turn out right.”
“I can understand all of these except for #1.”
“It’s only been a week since they started their jobs. Impossible.”
This is where we have to point out that while Mosha no Meruze’s tweet went out this month, these results were initially released last April. What’s more, Goo carried out the survey between January 27 and 30 of 2014, meaning that the “new employees” the respondents were griping about had, by that point, already spent roughly nine months on the job. That seems like enough time to start getting the hang of knowing what the next step of the process is and occasionally getting it done without being asked.
As a matter of fact, at least one Internet commenter thinks that learning to do just that is a critical part of growing up, reacting to Mosha no Meruze’s tweet with:
“Um, well, they’re adults now. Thinking for yourself about what you should do next, isn’t that a necessary skill?”
Of course, skills take time to develop, and in this case, the survey results seem to indicate not everyone has them down pat at the nine-month mark. So maybe, along with ohayou gozaimasu, a good phrase to remember is “Hoka ni nanika otetsudai dekiru koto arimasu ka?”, or “Is there anything else I can help with?”