Japanese coworker has “nothing I could say to dispute that.”

Japan prides itself on a strong sense of responsibility being part of its baseline national character, and that includes punctuality. However, while there may be plenty of self-satisfaction going on internally, from a slightly more outside perspective things can look very different, as Japanese Twitter user @M16A_hayabusa recently experienced.

One of @M16A_hayabusa’s coworkers is a foreigner, and the following came up in one of their recent conversations:

“My coworker from overseas surprised me by saying this:

‘Japanese people are surprisingly strict about being on time for meetings, conferences, and the start of the workday, but I’m disappointed about how they treat stopping times the opposite way, and are so vague about them. It’s rude to the other party, and I feel bad for people’s families who are waiting for them to come home from work.’

…There was nothing I could say to dispute that (´・ω・`; )

The situation @M16A_hayabusa’s coworker describes is a common, often unavoidable aspect of working in Japan, but that doesn’t mean it’s something that all Japanese people are happy about either. @M16A_hayabusa’s tweet had several other Japanese Twitter users nodding in agreement, leaving comments like:

“’If you work just a little longer, that’s a good thing (even if the quality or rate of productivity drops).’ ‘Leaving things half-done is unforgivable.’ Until Japanese people throw out those beliefs, the situation isn’t going to get any better.’”

“Calling them ‘conferences’ is a misnomer. They should actually be called ‘endurance matches.’”

“If you could personally make a huge profit by prioritizing your company and sacrificing your health and family, then maybe it’d make sense, but that’s not how it ends up at all.”

“My way of thinking has become completely Americanized, and now I find myself getting irritated at the Japanese custom of having meetings without set time frames, objectives, or resolutions.”

“I remember hearing about an American who said ‘Japanese have a loose concept of time,’ and I think he meant ‘We don’t stick to a schedule for ending times.’”

As mentioned by several of the commenters, traditionally run Japanese companies are notorious for holding meetings where nothing specific gets accomplished. Some such meetings are held at regular intervals, regardless of whether or not there’s any matter that the participants really need to discuss with one another.

The practice might seem bafflingly inefficient, but efficiency isn’t the actual goal. Ideally (or ostensibly) these free-form (or aimless) meetings are meant to bolster a broad sense of communication, understanding, and cooperation. In a society that values harmony, there’s legitimately something to be said for keeping the ball of decision-making rolling slowly, so that corrections and adjustments can be made before actually committing resources to a single course of action.

However, those positives can be undone if one party has actually already decided what it wants to do, and is simply staging multiple meetings to give the appearance of being open to compromise or adjustment when it actually isn’t. Likewise, a prevailing attitude that nothing decisive is actually going to get done in a meeting can result in participants not being particularly active or prepared, making the gathering largely a waste of time for all involved.

Then there’s the connection between time spent in the office and perceived effort, as touched upon by one commenter. Japan, understandably, admires workers who are willing to go above and beyond their bare-minimum responsibilities in order to provide a better product/service for customers and revenue for the company. However, in many companies this gets to the point where actually leaving at the standard quitting time can be seen as lazy and irresponsible, which eliminates the incentive to complete tasks in a timely manner, which can also contribute to long meetings that stretch into overtime but don’t accomplish anything except letting the participants show their bosses that they’re still in the office, and thus “working hard.”

To be fair, in practical terms it’s easy to set an exact starting time for a meeting than an exact ending time, and if you’re a working adult, you should show up on time, since making everyone else sit around waiting for you is inconsiderate. On the other hand, setting an exact ending time for a meeting is a lot tougher, since it’s often difficult to gauge how long a problem is going to take to solve until you’re at least part-way into the discussion. Still, if more Japanese companies were to set at least soft caps for how long a meeting will run, while fostering a workplace environment that once it runs past that time maybe everyone should go home and come back the next day with some fresh ideas, a lot of employees, both Japanese and foreign, would probably be a lot happier.

Source: Twitter/@M16A_hayabusa via Hachima Kiko
Top image: Pakutaso
Insert images: Pakutaso (1, 2)
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