Supporting companies to implement work-life balance

Having known Kamioka san for several years, I cannot speak highly enough about her professionalism and business approach. As you might have noticed by now, every week on Wednesday my goal is to give someone else a voice to provide further insights in regard to Japan. This week’s local insider is Kamioka san the president of Mashr Consulting: Supplier of outsourcing services for specialized areas such as international and local human resources, accounting, etc. Mashr Consulting assists local and international business with solutions based on Kamioka san’s experience in employment contract disagreements, social security/pensions aspects, increasing motivation and profit with work-life balance, international accounting standards support (CPA holder).

Sibylle Ito: Abroad I often hear the comment that Japanese women face a lot of discrimination at the working place. Now with the Prada discrimination law suit by Rina Bovrisse an actual example became public abroad. Do you think discrimination against women happens so often?
Yumiko Kamioka: Yes it is true that sadly rather often sexual harassment occurs in Japan. The most recent figures that I have, say that it was 23,000 cases consulted to Labor Bureau in 2009 and 56% is sexual harassment.
Since April of 2008 the sexual harassment law was revised in Japan and since then companies need to have their own sexual harassment policy. But let me point out that not only sexual harassment should be the focus. Other types of harassment like power harassment and moral harassment exist as well. Most likely sexual harassment is the most difficult to report by the victim. Therefore it is imperative for a company to have a safe, privacy protected and supportive route for the injured party to come forward. Apart from an announcement within the company, training and clear explanations on what can be understood actually as a harassment need to be provided. Furthermore the company needs a clear stance that harassment will not be tolerated and appropriate punishment will occur. Having set up the internal rules is not enough, awareness needs to be created and openly communicated by the management. Even though it might be quite some work, at the end it is in the company’s interest to keep motivation high and avoid any potential harassments internally.

SI: Contrary then, it seems to me that Japanese women have a lot of power at home, especially after a long marriage. I have heard from several male employees who will be retired soon, that they fear very much that their wives might divorce them. Does it actually happen? What do you think?
YK: For sure the divorce rate is increasing for couples, when the husband is reaching retirement age or soon after the kids have graduated from university and have moved out. Statistics by the Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare shows the divorce rate of the couple whose cohabitation period 20 years was 4% in 1950 but it has increased to 16.5% in 2008. As one of a reason, it is due to changes in the law that allows now a wife to get certain portion of the “husband’s pension” the need has ended for some women to stay in a marriage for financial reasons. Therefore potentially more divorces are observed.
From my experience women are more proactive than men. I actually see much less men being truly concerned about this topic. It seems to me that many men were more focused on the role of being the sole provider for the family. As a consequence more men suffer then from a lack of communication within the family, few friends outside of work…having to face then all of the sudden the unthinkable: It is not surprisingly that some men can feel “being left all alone”.

SI: Japanese employees are famous to work long hours. Especially now with the global financial downturn, do you think the situation has become worse?
YK: No, I don’t think so. The situation has become better. Due to the economic stagnation for past few years, there is a tendency that enterprises decrease the operation level and reduce employee’s overtime work. Of course there is still potentially “サービス残業” ongoing (overtime not recorded and done for free). The increased financial pressure had several effects on the local companies as management was forced to rethink their strategy. Increasing turnover can be challenging. Costs had to be cut: the amount of business trips had to decrease, plus overtime payment had to be avoided. Furthermore instead of having someone to let go the goal of the company is to find more efficient ways to increase profit, all the redundant tasks within the company to be cut and a focus on aspects create revenue. Additionally the idea of work sharing becomes more imperative. The goal is that unlike before only “A” san is responsible for a certain task, but now “A” san, “B” san and “C” san are trained and know to do the same assignment. With this more flexibility and creativity at work becomes possible. This approach allows members to have vacations or maternity leave.

SI: Is the concept of work-life balance actually possible in Japan?
YK: Honestly I prefer to use the word: work-life synergy. As mentioned previously with the need for the companies to be competitive and looking at the aging population the work force has to change. In order to allow more flexibility it is necessary to employ more seniors, foreigners, professional employees with or without children, non-permanent employees, part-time workers… With the purpose of increasing competitiveness, meaning as well giving growth for more internal creativity a diverse workforce becomes needed.
Just imagine with the increase of elder people in Japan, someone will have to take care of them as well. Having more flexibility at work will allow the company to avoid important brain drain, while these employee will become more motivated and engaged to make a difference at work. Having employees working for too long hours as a consequence the output and creativity will decrease. One should not forget that a lot of real life experience creates new ideas for potential products.

Kamioka san, thank you so much for letting me know your unbiased view on present working situation in Japan. For sure I would like to have with you an interview again, then more focused on the topic of social internal challenges of companies entering Japan.

Brought to you by Sibylle Ito (シビル伊藤)

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