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What’s the difference between working for Western and Japanese companies?

Firstly before I begin my piece, the following blog is a variety of observations I have gained from working with both western and Japanese companies over several years. Although it is somewhat presumptuous to generalize about the characteristics and attitudes of millions of people, some rather basic and important differences between the Japanese and western working cultures appear to exist. These are simply observations to help you achieve success working for a western company.

Decision Making!

As opposed to Japanese businesses using a more cautious and conservative approach, with plenty of meetings and documentation, Western companies tend to empower subordinates enabling them to make decisions quickly. Whilst giving the employee responsibility and providing a fast conclusion, errors can be frequent. So, get ready and be prepared to be asked to make a decision and follow through with that decision.

Results Driven!

‘Get to work, do your job and go home’. This, sort of, sums up the western way of working. As opposed to the Japanese culture of working late to earn a living or "seikatsu zangyo", western jobs are measured on how quickly you can reach your target. Whatever line of work you are in, you will have a target or KPI (Key Performance Indicator) to reach and the quicker you can achieve your target the better.

Performance!

Generally speaking, your pay will be based on your ability and market value, and not on age, whether you are married, number of children, etc., as is typically the case in many Japanese firms. You will also find that you will receive most of your pay in the form of cash as opposed to receiving additional benefits such as; subsidized company housing.

Responsibility!

As opposed to the cultural norm of "hourensou", referring to frequent reporting  and discussions, Western firms tend to label this as "micromanagement” and prefer their employees to have performance meetings, where targets are discussed and idea’s exchanged. From a Westerner’s viewpoint, a meeting room is a place for discussion about current work projects and serves as a place to dedicate time to reach a conclusion about something.

Directness!

''If you have a problem, come to me about it. Don't tell everyone else about it.''  Working in a western company for a typically western boss requires you to be direct and honest with your opinions. Non confrontation doesn’t really work as a Western boss will expect you to be direct with your problems and opinions.

Communication!

Communication in via email or on the phone seems to be more natural in conducting business relationships in western companies as opposed to Japanese business relationships being built around meeting each other face to face.

Personal Time!

As I mentioned earlier, the emphasis of the western working culture is to achieve your target as quickly as possible. Family and personal time is important and Work-Life balance is a must. There is some socializing outside of work but not as a group, which can be different from many Japanese firms where priority is on the work life.

Tim Golding
Director – PRTR Japanese Recruitment Thailand

If you have any questions regarding working for a western company, please feel free to contact me via email on: tim@prtr.com.

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