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The Importance of Happy Workplaces in Japan

(original published at LinkedIn in March 21, 2017)

Working at a Japanese company in Japan can be quite challenging. It is demanding and hard work is regarded as a beautiful thing. When I worked with Japanese companies, I mostly felt that a lot of people are not really happy in doing what they are doing. It seemed to me that work is experienced more as a duty and obligation, not something you could actually enjoy. And in fact only 44% feel “well-being” at their jobs in Japan (2016 Edenred-Ipsos Barometer).

So more than half of the workforce is not enjoying their daily activity called work. And this despite the fact that Japan has achieved a very good economic situation, is safe, clean and very convenient to live in, at least from my experience living here in my adopted country for quite some years.

I think something needs to change. Not only because it’s extremely sad that such an amount of people spend most of their time in their life unhappy, but also because organizations and the economy can largely benefit from it. We know that happy workers are 12% more productive than unhappy workers ( ScienceDaily, “We Work Harder When We Are Happy, New Study Shows”). And not only that, they are also more innovative and creative, in fact “one day’s happiness often predicts the next day’s creativity” (Fast Company, “The 6 Myths Of Creativity”).

In other words, we lose a great potential of productivity and creativity here. If you think about a large cooperation like Sony, Panasonic, Hitachi or any other large enterprise, it can make a huge difference at the output if you have 12% more productivity or not. Therefor I think that happy workers are not a nice-to-have thing, but should be a top-priority of all Leaders and Managers in their organizations. Instead of focusing on the improvement of efficiency in production, as many companies are doing, it could be much more effective to take care, listen, empower and energize their employees in a smart way.

And it’s not only the productivity and creativity, which may suffer from company environments where people do not feel happy. As Rainer Strack from the Boston Consulting group shows in his great TED talk, major economies, including Japan, will face a huge shortage in labor force in the coming years (The workforce crisis of 2030 — and how to start solving it now).

In fact its already getting more difficult for companies to hire young graduates from the universities. A shift of power in the selection process is happening. In the past decades companies could choose from the full source of graduates and pick the most promising ones, the cherries. They offered them live-long contracts and these graduates where glad to get the job and kept up to it, even in the face of hard times. But this is changing. Nowadays and especially in the future this will balance in favor for the young graduates. They are able to select the most attractive companies, the cherries.

Is your company such an attractive choice for young job seekers? And what makes a job in an organization attractive? High Salary?

According to the Boston Consulting Group the motivation for a job choice is not so much money, it is to have a good relationship with boss and employees, a good work-life-balance and appreciation in the job. All these things you cannot buy with money. Instead it has to be implemented in the company culture and need to be practiced every day. It takes time to build such an environment and it needs to be cultivated. A bad culture does not only destroy happiness; it can even destroy the entire company. A good culture instead will have a prospering effect on your company. Or in the words of Management guru Jurgen Appelo: “Culture eats strategy everything for breakfast” (not only strategy) (Jurgen Appelo on Twitter).

This view is also shared by Daiwa Securities Group Inc. President Takashi Hibino who said that “Japanese companies will have to improve their work environment or we won’t be able to attract people” (Bloomberg, Tokyo Has More Than Two Job Openings for Every Applicant).

Leaders and Managers of Japan it is time to change the current situation. Instead of managing the people in a command-and-control way it is smarter to manage the system and energize as well as empower the people, as it is said in Management 3.0 (Forbes, Manage The System, Not The People).

You can start right now by improving your company with the “12-Steps to Happiness” (Management 3.0, 12 Steps to Happiness). It is a list based on science how you can create an environment of happiness for everyone around you in your workplace by following these concrete recommendations.

If you have experience in the creation of an environment of happiness in your workplace, please share it and let others learn from your story. I am sure that there are plenty of great examples of happy working environments in Japan.