In The Workplace

I’m a department manager at a Japanese company where I spent almost 25 years. My Japanese boss keeps on pushing me to the limit by requiring me to complete many projects at the same time while I’m doing my regular job resulting in an average of ten work hours a day even at home. What’s the cure for all this? Is this the best time to look for another job? – Moon River.

A 10-year old girl from the city was visiting a farm for the first time. She had never seen many animals before. The first time she encountered an animal, she blurted out: “What a strange-looking cow. But why hasn’t she got any horns?”

Her uncle, the farmer, explained: “Well, you see, some cows are born without horns and never have any. Others shed theirs, and some were dehorned. And some breeds aren’t supposed to have horns at all. But the reason this cow hasn’t got any horns is because she’s not a cow. She’s a horse.”

Good advice requires an understanding of context. In your case, that means evaluating your current situation, understanding how it relates to your career goal, and harmonizing them all with your family and health concerns in mind. It’s not easy.

Even if you’ve already decided to resign and find new work, you can expect a lot more emotional distress on your way out. That’s why I’m advising you to take it easy. Think twice to come up with the best possible decision.

No matter how overwhelmed you are by the burdens of your job, resigning is not the best option, unless you’ve exhausted all available remedies. Even if you’ve done something to correct the situation and found the resolution wanting, looking for another job is another challenge that you weigh carefully.

If you want to be happy at work, you must take a broader view of your situation, by understanding what you can and cannot change. This means discovering the source of your dissatisfaction at work — which as you’ve said is the heavy volume of work you’re doing. Sometimes, however, it’s easy to jump to conclusions.

Instead of seeing what’s bad about your situation, list down what you can do to help alleviate the situation. Then start exploring the following remedies:

One, revisit the company culture. Most Japanese companies and managers are known for working long hours. You’ve been in that company for 25 years, so you should be first to understand what’s going on. Try to discover if you’re the only one feeling that way.

Two, talk to your boss about your problems. Most Japanese managers believe in horenso which requires you and other managers to regularly report, coordinate, and consult with them. While this mainly focuses on tasks, no one should prevent you from using it to discuss your personal concerns about the job.

Three, offer temporary measures. Discover ways to lighten your work load without necessarily burdening the company with hiring additional workers or buying new equipment. The Japanese are known for their kaizen mindset. Which means they are open to employee ideas, especially if it has something to do with making the job easier, better, faster and of course cheaper in the long term.

Four, challenge the old ways of doing things. The Japanese know the continuous improvement concept so well you may not encounter difficulty in making a proposal in that spirit, as long as your ideas are commonsensical and practical to implement. Remember, Japanese people are reasonable people, but you may need to explain your side of things.

Last, agree on a priority list. You need to be on the same page with your boss on what matters the most at any given time. Emphasize the fact you can’t possibly do all things at once without adversely affecting the quality of work. It’s a matter of doing an extensive horenso to prove your point.

There’s a saying “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.” In your current situation, knowing what you can change with the approval of your boss is an important step towards a successful career and in solving your concerns. There’s no need to sulk in a corner or think that resigning is the only solution.

Try the abovementioned suggestions to see what works. Your Japanese boss may have to take it easy with you lest your case be interpreted as harassment involving a manager with 25 years of service. Seniority matters to the Japanese. Your issue may be transitory and need not ruin your work life.

Even if you can always leave for another organization, there’s no guarantee that things will be better. You may not like the struggle, but try these options to see if you can make things at least tolerable. And manage what you can control.


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