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Staff loyalty loses lustre in Abe’s cutthroat Japan

By Margaret Canning

Long service to a company was once viewed as a virtue, and many of my own (now relatively aged) generation have witnessed plenty of older relatives bring home their carriage clocks.

But in a transformed business environment, a career serving decades in the same company is less prevalent.

Japan has been one country which has clung to the old way of doing things — but now prime minister Shinzo Abe (whose surname and enthusiastic economic reforms led to the coining of the phrase ‘Abenomics’) wants to shake things up.

Under pressure from Abe, corporations are phasing in performance-related pay and getting rid of the old system of rewarding so-called ‘salarymen’ for years of putting in the hours at their desks.

In October last year, Hitachi said the salaries of 11,000 managers would be based entirely on job performance, in a bid to globalise its business.

Now Toyota has said it is negotiating the introduction of performance-related pay for about 40,000 people.

Of course, long working hours are not limited to Japan — especially not in the present era of employees always being contactable by email or mobile phone. But according to The Times, Japanese companies operate under a ‘murashakai’ system, where people know their place and spend decades supporting other members of their team in the workplace.   

That system disincentives individuals, pushing themselves harder and competing with each other — a culture which Abe now wants to subvert. 

A culture of working long hours and rewarding people for time spent in the office encourages neglect of your personal life.

That leads to low rates of marriage and birth, and most tragically, cases of suicide from overwork. 

Other plans from the ambitious Abe include printing money to revive the country’s deflationary economy and quash the value of the yen, a move which will improve the lot of exporters like the car companies, as well as technology and manufacturers like Sony and Canon.  That could be easier than changing the country’s entire attitude to the workplace, which could take a generation.

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