Working Past the Time: A Newbie Engineer Tells His Tale
Much of the electronic gadgets I fiddled with in my childhood bore the ‘Made in Japan’ label. Be it spending countless hours on the revered Panasonic gaming console or examining the features of my first ever Olympus camera, a sense of awe about this technology obsessed country was instilled in me at a very early age.
It has been a dream of mine since I was a child to work as an engineer in Japan, the mecca of all things high tech. So when the opportunity presented itself, I embraced it with open arms and I currently work as an electrical engineer in a Japanese company in Chiba.
working in a traditional Japanese company is an experience in itself
I opine that working in a traditional Japanese company is an experience in itself. It is a mixed bag of euphoric highs and awful lows. Nevertheless, given the global nature of modern business, it is rather a wishful dream to restrict a company completely by geographical boundaries and continue being a ‘traditional’ one in the true sense of the term.
For example, even though Japanese continues to be the majorly visible language in Japan, its presence is getting rapidly eroded in many board rooms. For a company (as is my case) that reaps bulk of its market share from outside Japan, where costs are decided in US Dollars and where a team comprises people from Iran to Indonesia, it is difficult for the Japanese language to uphold its looming presence completely.
Even though I continue to receive emails from my division secretary written completely in Japanese (and I am left utterly clueless), the important ones will always have an English versions. As some Japanese companies increasingly hire foreigners, the usage of English will only go continue to grow. This is not to discourage foreigners from learning Japanese, though. Knowledge of Japanese opens multiple doors in this country.
Though the official appointment letter mentioned a seven and half hours work shift, I realized soon enough that it was meant to be valid only on paper. Jikangai, the Japanese for overtime work, is a concept that is the norm rather than the exception.
Never mind the official hours, most Japanese employees start early and work late into the night. On certain mornings, I am surprised to see emails from my supervisor sent past 10 P.M. the previous night. When this persists, I am left wondering as to how Japanese workers harmonize their work lives with their personal lives.
A Japanese friend tells me that, for most Japanese, their work is their life. May be it is solely his personal take but when you look at Japan’s declining population rates, you are inclined to think similarly. The irony is that there’s a public announcement across my office at 5:45 P.M. every Wednesday, advising people to return home and devote time to their families.
Japanese companies reflect a tremendous sense of professionalism that their Indian counterparts are often lacking. There is very little scope of ‘office politics’, a term that has come to signify pretty much everything that plagues the bulk of Indian companies.
Employees in India are more vocal and acidic when they don’t get that pay hike or when their boss is perceived as unreasonable. I doubt that the inherently reticent Japanese would lock horns so easily.
However, many Indians I have talked to feel that the methodical process of knowledge assimilation at a Japanese workplace can often be painfully slow. Indians, by virtue of the fiercely competitive environment they grow up in, are inherently fast learners. They often do not go by the book, contrary to what typifies the Japanese work culture to a large extent. Hence, a certain degree of adjustment is called for.
A year back my interviewer had asked me as to what I knew about Japanese work ethics. The ever punctual schedules here are testimony to the answer I gave back then. Coming from India, it was quite a jolt. Indians, for all their smart technical skills and reasonably good command over the English language, are not the most punctual group on the planet.
There’s an inherent tendency to procrastinate, something that has cost the country years of progress and a severe brain drain, with the smartest minds leaving the country in the hope that there are places out there where they can harness their skills to better use.
Hence, working in Japan has been an eye opener, where itineraries are often planned by the minute and complex projects broken down into simpler manageable blocks. Such tremendous displays of discipline never ceases to amaze me.
The Japanese work culture has already been the subject of much research and one blog post is not going to cover it. Copies of ‘The Toyota Way’ still find its way into people’s book shelves back home, so to all my Indian colleagues who are working in Japan. Ganbatte kudasai!