Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Roger Agustin

Musings Of A Sarariman
Corporate Warriors and Black Companies

November-December 2013

One word that is synonymous with being a ‘sarariman’ is ‘STRESS’. Stress is I think one of the biggest part of sarariman’s life and being able to cope with it is one of the most important qualities required from a worker. Japan’s rise from the devastation of the war to its economic prowess in the post war decades until the Bubble Economy of the 80’s and followed by a series of economic downturns triggered different phenomena from work related stress. What used to be a common fact of work life that is called stress evolved through the years into a fatal menace for people in the work force. Karōshi
(過労死) literally translated as ‘death from overwork’ is occupational sudden death. Back in my days as a new employee in a Japanese company about 2 decades ago, karōshi deaths were not commonly known until it got focused on by the media due to a growing number of workers in their prime years suddenly died without previous history of illnesses. Japan is also known as one of the leading nations in suicide rates. And as such, a large part of the high suicide rates could be attributed to work related stress and depression. There are tons of information on the net about karōshi related news and statistics are even being published yearly. But it is very clear that stress cannot be taken lightly these days compared to when I started off as a new sarariman. It is not even difficult to trace the roots of the stress in the work environment. The unique culture of lifetime employment and the ‘work ethics’ associated with it in the Japanese work force could have been the source of most of the stress and its fatality. The long working hours with unpaid overtime, considered a virtue is also a prime factor and contributor to an unhealthy worker. Stress itself is a bit vague and very generic compared to depression which is a result of stress also and is a psychiatric illness. However, depression is a kind of ‘shameful’ disease as it is a form of mental illness so most people suffering from depression tend to hide it with the fear that they might be discriminated or even be fired from work. Companies themselves do not want to be held accountable for mental disorders of their employees, let alone compensate for it. And besides, quitting a job when it becomes unbearable is a bad thing and must be avoided at all costs because it is regarded as a sign of weakness both physical and emotional. It is also damaging to the image conscious Japanese (that’s why it’s called a silent killer because a person who is under stress would be in constant denial that he is in that state until it gets too late). Quitting halfway can be ridiculed and is very negatively seen when looking for another job. At least that still applies to my generation. Do you know that we were even called 企業戦士 (Kigyo Senshi corporate warrior) in those days? Looking back, that word itself seemed to suggest we were prepared to die no matter what it takes to get the job done! Times have changed and new generation of young workers have somewhat learned the concept of balance between work and life. Big companies also in the concept of corporate governance have been implementing measures to ensure that employees are given the opportunity to achieve balance between work and personal life.

And just when I thought things are getting better, a new term has come up
ブラック企業 (Burakku Kigyo) literally translated as Black Company, with some connotations to sweatshops but the targets and victims are young workers. These companies are said to exploit their workers by requiring them to work for excessively long hours with unpaid overtime to maximize their profits and of course in the name of global competition. They were said to have been told that their salary includes overtime pay and they may get increase based on their performance. Sounds like a typical tactic to lure young recruits who are desperate to get full time jobs and taking advantage of the bad economic situation. This is obviously a product of the Great Recession where companies were forced to cut costs exacerbated by years of deflation. In this age of internet and SNS, information on alleged abuses by suspected black companies goes viral and spread so fast, promoting public awareness. Burakku Kigyou is just a modern day take on Karōshi so things have not changed so much really.

I work for an industry where stress is an inherent part of the work so more or less we need to be aware that it is something we have to deal with day in and day out. Doing the actual work is way easier than dealing with the different stresses in the workplace and in doing business with stakeholders. To work less and get more rest would be the easiest way out. But after all, I am a corporate warrior. Working is like fighting to survive. And when the job gets done, it is the most stress relieving moment of all!

Gambare, sarariman!

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