Are you an innovation-loving young professional? Brace yourself for the chance you’ll run into this aggravations working in Japan.

Japan is a country that values tradition and respects experience, but those factors can sometimes actually make generation gaps all the wider, especially in the workplace. Nothing stays the same forever, but in a society where “This is how we’ve always done things” is often considered a plausible rationale, when young people start pushing to do things in a new style, they can run into a frustrating wall of resistance from older employees, who are usually the ones calling the shots.

In discussing these situations, sociologist and Taisho University professor Toshiyuki Tanaka refers to what he calls “ossan rules,” or “middle-aged man rules.” If you’re thinking of working in Japan, odds are you’ll run into at least some of these old-fashioned ways of thinking, but rather than simply condemn them as outdated, Tanaka attempts to decode them, showing why older workers think of their ossan rules as the proper way of doing things.

Let’s take a look at five of the potentially most aggravating:

1. “The more time you spend working, the better your work performance, and the company, will be.”

As committed to quality as most Japanese companies are, efficiency, at least in term of man-hours, often isn’t nearly so high a priority. As a matter of fact, grinding away and putting in regular overtime is seen as a sign of virtuous industriousness, and even if it’s past the normal quitting time, punching out while your coworkers or boss are still in the office is frowned upon.

Tanaka says that workers who perpetuate these attitudes are operating under the theory that, all else equal, spending extra time on a project equals putting more effort into it, which will lead to better results.

2. “After spending the whole day working, going drinking with your coworkers promotes better teamwork.”

In orthodox Japanese management, it’s not enough to work a full shift plus overtime. Once it’s finally time to leave the office, the next stop should be a pub or bar where you knock back a few drinks with your coworkers.

The theory is that the more casual setting, as well as the alcohol, will allow for a more sincere, open, and organic discussion about work issues than can be achieved while still at the office, where proper decorum is supposed to be adhered to. More personal, collaborative conversation also helps build a sense of solidarity, proponents of this ossan rule say.

3. “You’ve got to stay at a position for three years before you can really expect to understand it or do anything well.”

This one is especially aggravating for college graduates starting their first adult job. There’s a traditional belief that learning the ropes and getting accustomed to a job takes three years, and so it’s not unusual for managers in Japan to have little concern if an employee who hasn’t hit the three-year mark is unhappy or dissatisfied with their job.

Part of this stems from Japanese staffing practices. Quite frequently in Japan, young job hunters get their positions based on the reputation of their universities, not their actual college course load. Combined with a preference among Japanese companies to retain workers long-term and promote from within, this means that oftentimes new recruits don’t have a particularly strong educational background for the tasks they’ll be called on to perform.

Add it all up, and some veteran employees simply think it takes three years to get up to speed, start pulling your weight, and really know if a job is for you or not, even if some young people already feel like they know it’s not.

4. “Using new technology and techniques to do things efficiently is the same as being lazy.”

This might just be the most aggravating ossan rule of all, especially for new employees who actually did study the field they’re working in during their education and know about the potential upside of recent innovations. But as mentioned above, in the eyes of older workers, human efficiency isn’t always considered such a desirable trait. Tanaka says that older employees can see potential productivity-boosters as an attempt to avoid really rolling up your sleeves and getting elbows-deep in the nature of your work, and without doing that, it’s not possible to instill a proper sense of pride or craftsmanship.

Tanaka keeps his interpretations pretty neutral, and while the word “ossan” can sometimes have a derisive edge to it, in trying to present the point of view of managers who agree with these ossan rules he’s at least humanizing them. Hopefully that will make things a little less frustrating for young professionals who find themselves having to deal with these attitudes, at least until they have enough experience under their belts to start making rules of their own.

Source: Livedoor News/Shukan Spa via Jin
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