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salaryman

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metablue
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salaryman

Postby metablue » June 2nd, 2006 8:36 pm

The idea of a "salaryman" really intrigues me. It's like something out the US 50s. These days, young people in the US/Canada/NZ (the countries I'm familiar with) don't expect loyalty from an employer, and we don't really give it either. We expect to switch jobs or to be laid off every few years. Especially in the tech industry, where the average stint at a company is something like 18 months.

That a company would continue to pay you after you leave them (a pension) is almost unimaginable. Or that the government would look after you after retirement, for that matter. People who look for a lifelong bond with an employer are considered a bit staid and inflexible. Most people accept that you have to look after yourself, save and invest for retirement, be good at negotiation, keep learning, be ready to switch careers if necessary or move to another part of the country, and so on. I say "most people", but I guess I mean those young enough to have grown up knowing no different.

I get the impression that all Japanese (men) are the complete opposite and want to become salarymen. Of course that's not true - there are all kinds of people everywhere. But how acceptable is it to be a salaryman? Is it something to strive for? If you become one, are you considered to be ambitious, or a little afraid to take risks? When young people graduate and start looking for jobs, are they seeking a lifelong commitment? What percentage of people have a stable position at a big company? Once you work there, can you leave? Or would that get you labeled as unreliable? If you suck will the company fire you? Or do you just get sent to sit at a window seat in some obscure subsidiary? Do you have to be a special kind of person to be a salaryman?

Bueller_007
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Re: salaryman

Postby Bueller_007 » June 3rd, 2006 3:28 am

metablue wrote:The idea of a "salaryman" really intrigues me. It's like something out the US 50s. These days, young people in the US/Canada/NZ (the countries I'm familiar with) don't expect loyalty from an employer, and we don't really give it either. We expect to switch jobs or to be laid off every few years. Especially in the tech industry, where the average stint at a company is something like 18 months.

That a company would continue to pay you after you leave them (a pension) is almost unimaginable. Or that the government would look after you after retirement, for that matter. People who look for a lifelong bond with an employer are considered a bit staid and inflexible. Most people accept that you have to look after yourself, save and invest for retirement, be good at negotiation, keep learning, be ready to switch careers if necessary or move to another part of the country, and so on. I say "most people", but I guess I mean those young enough to have grown up knowing no different.

I get the impression that all Japanese (men) are the complete opposite and want to become salarymen. Of course that's not true - there are all kinds of people everywhere. But how acceptable is it to be a salaryman? Is it something to strive for? If you become one, are you considered to be ambitious, or a little afraid to take risks? When young people graduate and start looking for jobs, are they seeking a lifelong commitment? What percentage of people have a stable position at a big company? Once you work there, can you leave? Or would that get you labeled as unreliable? If you suck will the company fire you? Or do you just get sent to sit at a window seat in some obscure subsidiary? Do you have to be a special kind of person to be a salaryman?

I believe that "salaryman" just means (a low-ranking) man who works in an office and receives a regular paycheck (i.e. they don't work on commission or contract) A white-collar worker. It's a catch-all phrase for office jobs that often don't have a name. I don't believe there's much prestige attached to it, and IMO guys who call themselves "salarymen" often seem bored with their work.

The equivalent (but usually lower-ranking, lower-salaried) position for women is OL (オーエル), meaning "office lady".

The lifetime employment system started falling apart in Japan when the bubble economy collapsed. Even big companies like Sony (whose former CEO was a very, very strong supporter of the lifetime employment system) laid off 10,000 people in Sept. of last year.

IMO, young people are much, much, much more likely to quit their jobs and seek out other companies or industries than their parents were. And Japanese companies are more likely to fire people when times get tough.

Japanese companies are renowned for hiring people straight out of university. In-house training is believed to be very important. Although this trend also is not as strong as it used to be, it can still be difficult for someone who has been laid off (or quit) to find work in another company. You can't teach an old dog new tricks, and if the person has proven themselves to be less than reliable (by quitting their old job), then it may not be worth the effort of training them.

If you "suck", old Japanese business policy was that you be retrained, or given a position of very little importance. You had to do something VERY serious to get fired. This wasn't necessarily because it was best for the person, but because it was best for the company. The reasoning was that a single good employee you saved would support the five crappy ones that you couldn't reform. It's also often said that this was because of Japan's Confucian values (you must remain loyal to your superiors, and in turn they must protect you), but I don't know if I buy this. Other non-Confucian countries have had lifelong employment in the past. Anyway, I don't know if the trend against firing incompetents continues today.

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metablue
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Postby metablue » June 8th, 2006 4:09 pm

Interesting. I think of a salaryman as anyone with life long employment, particularly Japanese-style. Joining the company at a certain time of year with a block of other new entrants, picking out the spot and bringing everyone's bento for hanami, wearing suits and singing the company song. Circulating through different departments to learn how the company works as a whole. Getting a pension. Following a track through the company. That would make anyone from new recruit to upper management a salaryman.

My friend (Jerry) said he met a student in Japan while playing an online game years ago. They got to know each other quite well and Jerry suggested that the guy come to visit. The guy said he couldn't because he was about to become a salaryman. Jerry suggested he could come on his vacation, but the guy said "You don't understand, I can't just leave, I'm a salaryman". Perhaps the guy was particularly ambitious, perhaps he was feeling depressed and blew things out of proportion, or perhaps he didn't want to visit. Jerry seemed to think that the guy's path was laid out before him for several years, and overseas vacations were out of the question for a long time.

I thought of it because of the intermediate lesson where the gakuchou admires Yoku's thesis and says he'll write her a letter of recommendation to Somy. It sounded odd to get a letter for a specific company. Here you'd get a letter for a university program, but probably not to a company unless the dean knew someone there. It sounded like part of the lifetime employment system. You need to choose well and get letters of reference for a specific company if you're going to be wedded to them for life. It would be like choosing a grad school in its importance.

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Postby Bueller_007 » June 9th, 2006 11:25 am

metablue wrote:Interesting. I think of a salaryman as anyone with life long employment, particularly Japanese-style. Joining the company at a certain time of year with a block of other new entrants, picking out the spot and bringing everyone's bento for hanami, wearing suits and singing the company song. Circulating through different departments to learn how the company works as a whole. Getting a pension. Following a track through the company. That would make anyone from new recruit to upper management a salaryman.

Yes. "Salary man" simply means "salaried (white-collar) worker". That's all it means. But upper-level staff usually refer to themselves as 係長, 部長, 課長, 副社長, 社長, etc, unless they are playing the old "humble" game. So usually, you can assume that people who call themselves "salaryman" are lower-ranking. It's a pretty dependable bet.

My friend (Jerry) said he met a student in Japan while playing an online game years ago. They got to know each other quite well and Jerry suggested that the guy come to visit. The guy said he couldn't because he was about to become a salaryman. Jerry suggested he could come on his vacation, but the guy said "You don't understand, I can't just leave, I'm a salaryman". Perhaps the guy was particularly ambitious, perhaps he was feeling depressed and blew things out of proportion, or perhaps he didn't want to visit. Jerry seemed to think that the guy's path was laid out before him for several years, and overseas vacations were out of the question for a long time.

Generally in Japan, it is difficult for office workers to take vacations. It's not due to company regulations, or a lack of available vacation days. They're afraid that they're going to let the team down. If he goes on vacation, his coworkers will have to work harder to cover him. And they may begin to resent him for it. So goes the reasoning, anyway.

And although I haven't experienced it myself, typical Ruth Benedict Japanese culture lessons say that Japanese people are likely to seek revenge about these sorts of things. That means additional work assigned to them; getting overlooked for promotions; exclusion from events with co-workers; blah, blah, blah. Whether this is true or not, I don't know.

Anyway, office workers in Japan often don't take their full yearly allotment of vacation time for exactly this reason.

I thought of it because of the intermediate lesson where the gakuchou admires Yoku's thesis and says he'll write her a letter of recommendation to Somy. It sounded odd to get a letter for a specific company. Here you'd get a letter for a university program, but probably not to a company unless the dean knew someone there. It sounded like part of the lifetime employment system. You need to choose well and get letters of reference for a specific company if you're going to be wedded to them for life. It would be like choosing a grad school in its importance.

Often, the school you go to has connections with numerous companies. (Perhaps because an executive of the school or one of his family members studied there.) They recommend students to these companies upon graduation (the best companies get the best students, etc.)

I don't know about major universities, but this is EXTREMELY common among 短期大学 ("tanki daigaku", roughly equivalent to "junior college"). Every girl I know who went to 短大 ended up with a recommendation to a specific company of the school's choice. Not only that, but they actually LANDED the job in question with little effort. It seems like these letters of recommendation are pretty much a free pass to get into the company.

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Postby metablue » June 9th, 2006 4:33 pm

Bueller_007 wrote:Yes. "Salary man" simply means "salaried (white-collar) worker". That's all it means. But upper-level staff usually refer to themselves as 係長, 部長, 課長, 副社長, 社長, etc, unless they are playing the old "humble" game. So usually, you can assume that people who call themselves "salaryman" are lower-ranking. It's a pretty dependable bet.


Ok. So it's kind of like "office drone". I'll make sure I don't call anyone a salaryman to their face.

Generally in Japan, it is difficult for office workers to take vacations. It's not due to company regulations, or a lack of available vacation days. They're afraid that they're going to let the team down. If he goes on vacation, his coworkers will have to work harder to cover him.


I can understand that now. When I was a kid, Japanese-style management was all the rage and I remember reading an article about Japanese office workers staying until 8 or 9 at night because no one wanted to be the first to leave. At the time I thought it was ridiculous.

Then I started working and found myself doing the exact same thing. Staying late at night to show I'm a team player. Coming in on weekends. Not wanting to take vacation because I have so much work to do at the moment and my team would be swamped if I wasn't there (but the workload never diminishes). Social pressure/reponsibility is a powerful thing. It's hard not to feel guilty even when you know you need to take time for yourself.

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Postby Bueller_007 » June 10th, 2006 9:31 am

metablue wrote:Ok. So it's kind of like "office drone". I'll make sure I don't call anyone a salaryman to their face.

No, I wouldn't say that you'd have to do that. Like I said, it basically just means "salaried person working in an office". It's par for the course. It's not offensive, condescending, an insult or anything.

Just think of it as the term "white-collar worker". Nobody is offended when you say "So you're a white-collar worker?" even though managers don't generally use the term to talk about themselves. Same thing with "salaryman".

Then I started working and found myself doing the exact same thing. Staying late at night to show I'm a team player. Coming in on weekends. Not wanting to take vacation because I have so much work to do at the moment and my team would be swamped if I wasn't there (but the workload never diminishes). Social pressure/reponsibility is a powerful thing. It's hard not to feel guilty even when you know you need to take time for yourself.

Haha. You're a much harder worker than me.

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Work and retirement

Postby MikeCassidy » June 23rd, 2006 3:00 pm

I guess because I’m 61 and have only worked for two companies, not counting the Army I have a different perspective on companies, loyalty, retirement and salaries.

I’m an in-between generation. My dad expected to live on his pension if he had lived long enough – males in my family tend to die in their 50’s. It's a blue collar thing.

My mom lives on my father’s Veteran’s Benefits; he was 100% disabled from WWII – BTW he was at Pearl Harbor. Being a Veteran is another blue collar thing. In truth I have not been blue collar since I was in my late 20’s; that’s an Ivy League thing.

First, pensions were not and are not companies taking care of their employees. They were benefits; meaning like stock options now [and in fact then] they were something a company offered to get you to work for them. You just did not consider salary when you were deciding to work for a company you looked at all the benefits. Its no different then many lawyers and stock brokers I know who get substantial bonuses, in fact many bigger than their salaries, and stock options; its part of the compensation package. Pensions were part of the workers compensation.

Instead of pensions now we have 401Ks with the company comtributing. Its no different; except I can take the money with me when I leave and do not have to worry that the money will vanish.

As for loyalty. Yes that has changed.
I still am amazed at that. Only a few years ago I remember everyone touting the Japanese system of jobs for life as the reason the Japanese had overtaken the U.S. But after the bubble its being touted as the reason the Japanese economy has been fighting to recover.

Another way to look at is doing something 100%.
Its what attracts me to Japanese culture: the Tea ceremony, Karate, Flower arrangement, paper folding – when you do something you do it 100%. Now jumping from company to company does not mean you work 100%; but something tells me that if in your mind your only there for 18 months sometime around 6-10 months you’re looking around for your next company.

As I said I’m in-between. I graduated with a degree in software engineering and many of my friends are IT geeks. For some reason I have always worked in printing: an apprentice printer, an apprentice pressman, then as a copyboy to editor at a newspaper, and finally to a magazine. I came close several times to jumping into the geek world BUT I did not want to take a salary cut. If I had lose my job I would have probably tried to get a job writing code and then like many of my friends would have been jumping jobs.

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Re: Work and retirement

Postby metablue » June 24th, 2006 5:11 am

MikeCassidy wrote:Another way to look at is doing something 100%.
Its what attracts me to Japanese culture: the Tea ceremony, Karate, Flower arrangement, paper folding – when you do something you do it 100%. Now jumping from company to company does not mean you work 100%; but something tells me that if in your mind your only there for 18 months sometime around 6-10 months you’re looking around for your next company.


That's interesting. I think of the 100% in another way. It's not so much that you plan to leave a company after 18 months. It's more like you look for a company that's doing something you think has a good future and that you can completely invest yourself in. Then you're hired, you're given stock options and free food, you start to work on a project, you're so excited that you stay late at night and sleep under your desk. Then your manager is replaced, then the free lunches stop because money is running low, then half the company gets laid off, and everyone feels sad, then the new manager points the company in a new direction, and a bunch of new people get hired on and you all get excited again and staying really late again, but this time you don't sleep under your desk because you saw what happened last time. And then a competitor comes up with a better product and people start getting laid off again, and they try to get a new manager again, but then the company folds. And 18 months have gone by, but it feels like 5 years. That was my first job. After a few times, you start to get a sense for when things are going downhill and you know when to look for something new.

If the company does last longer than that, you can't really work at that pace for more than about 18 months before you start to burn out. Then you have to take a long vacation or look for something else. So you are giving 100%, but it really is 100%, so you can't give it forever. The company I'm at now is a much more stable one. I've been here for 3 years already. There's still a lot of change, but the sense of urgency that comes from looming bankruptcy isn't really there.

The pensions as compensation package makes sense. I guess it's a matter of scale. Most companies I hear about now match perhaps a few thousand dollars a year. Maybe that grows into a lot if you invest well, but it's a far cry from paying you enough to live on for your entire retirement. It's a difference in attitude. From "come work for us and we'll look after you forever" to "come work for us and we'll give you some money up front, but you'd better know how to look after yourself (and we won't say it, but you should probably bring a lawyer)".

I think I might be sounding bitter. But I'm really not sure which I prefer. I like to know that I can look after myself and that I have control over my retirement funds and that I can handle being laid off and all that. And we're forced to learn new things all the time, which is good for you. But at the same time it's really stressful. It might be nice to feel that level of security. Then you can put a decent effort into your work for a limited number of hours and still have time to enjoy the rest of your life.

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Postby MikeCassidy » June 27th, 2006 3:04 pm

The pensions as compensation package makes sense. I guess it's a matter of scale. Most companies I hear about now match perhaps a few thousand dollars a year. Maybe that grows into a lot if you invest well, but it's a far cry from paying you enough to live on for your entire retirement. It's a difference in attitude. From "come work for us and we'll look after you forever" to "come work for us and we'll give you some money up front, but you'd better know how to look after yourself (and we won't say it, but you should probably bring a lawyer)".

I think I might be sounding bitter. But I'm really not sure which I prefer. I like to know that I can look after myself and that I have control over my retirement funds and that I can handle being laid off and all that. And we're forced to learn new things all the time, which is good for you. But at the same time it's really stressful. It might be nice to feel that level of security. Then you can put a decent effort into your work for a limited number of hours and still have time to enjoy the rest of your life.


It wasn't just come work for us and we will take care of your retirement it was part of the compensation package; no different than bonuses as oppose to salary. My wife is an HR person and she has negotiated compensation packages where there is much discussion whether the money should be as a 'bonus' or salary and whether the bonus and when can the bonus be paid etc. These are not bonuses for doing a nifty job these are guaranteed bonuses. Its more of a tax thing.

When I was at the Times part of my comp package was retirement; meaning I gave up some salary for that retirement package. The people who worked for GM and the airlines when they negoiated their contracts would take less take home pay for the retirement package.

I have several friends who worked fo QuarkXpress. The longest worked there for 6 years. Most much less. The Times is still 'family.' Meaning not too many people after about 5 years get fired. Its also one of the three or four newspapers newspaper people all over the U.S. are trying to work for. Conde Nast is different. I'm unusual to have survived as an edit person for 18 years. It not uncommon at Conde for whole staffs to change every few years. The family thing though reminds me of one of the things I did not like about the Army. People tend to not work hard. At the Times there is samll group of people in various jobs who work very very hard and many who are just gliding. Gliding seems such a waste.

But then I'm a bit crazy.

As for retirement, I credit my wife. She realized early on that we need to assume that the only money we would have was what we saved. So we have pumped money into out 401Ks. If my retirement money at the Times an Conde exists when I retire so much the better.

As for bitterness and cynicism its hard not to feel that at points. The nice part about being 61 and taking 50mg of beta blocker I'm mellower than I was even at 50.

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Postby seanolan » September 21st, 2006 12:31 am

Just a comment on the letter of recommendation to a specific company. Japanese people have a very strong sense of either being within a circle of aquaintances ("uchi") or outside of it ("soto", literally "inside" and "outside"). This influences a vast portion of their lives. In the US, if we need to go to a doctor, if we need a plumber, if we need a service or good, we are most likely to look quickly in the yellow pages of the phone book, decide on one and call them. That idea is almost horrifying to my Japanese friends. "How do you know they are any good?" they ask. "How will they know what you really want?" Instead of using the phone book (which does exist here, but in most Japanese homes, it has never been opened) they will contact various people in their circle of friends, aquaintances and superiors and ask to be introduced to THEIR doctor, or plumber, or lawyer, etc. Actually, they won't ask directly; they will hint that they need one and allow the other person to suggest an introduction.

Very few Japanese people go "job hunting" in the way that we do in the west. You will find far fewer classified ads for jobs than in a newspaper in the US for example. This is slowly changing, but it has been slowly changing since the late 1970's...it's an incredibly slow process. Instead, they are more likely to get a job because someone aquainted with someone in the company recommends them. University professors are somewhat outside of this in that their word holds a vast amount of weight even if they are unknown to the people within a company. But many university professors are ACTIVELY CULTIVATED for recommendations by the larger companies - given gifts and treated to nights on the town, just so they will consider the company fondly and recommend their best students to the company, so by default, many professors are considered "uchi" because a company will have cultivated a friendship with them. That's why these letters of recommendation are usually company specific and why they carry so much weight.

Sean

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Postby CrazySwayzee » December 11th, 2006 1:14 am

from what I hear, the average Japanese kid today wants to be involved in something creative, Carpenting, Art, Electricity and other trades and creative designs.

that's why the "salaryman" is slowly fading away, young Japanese don't want to do the same boring job everyday, they want to do something fun, and since thats hard to find in a country like Japan, they float from job to job, trying to find the "right" job.

also,a creative flair seems to be resented by the Japanese and many creative Japanese either become Hikikomori or they leave the country.
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