By Kim Pedersen (Guest Blogger)
Originally, roukan.com was created in an effort to contribute to the improvement of the Japanese working environment. The reason for this is that having worked for both Japanese and Danish companies in a number of different roles I had been privy to seeing two completely different working environments and most importantly how these work environments affect a company, the workers' productivity and the workers' quality of life. I will try to describe some of the key differences between the two countries below. Please bear mind that this description obviously will include some generalizations so it will not necessarily fit nor describe all companies. That said, it does describe and compare the most common differences and I hope you find it useful.
In Denmark, there are many workers who are very happy and satisfied with their job. They are professionals and they want to make a difference for their company. Further, they are actively engaged in the company’s activities and they contribute any way they can. This also means that they may well find it necessary sometimes to express an opinion which goes against their boss's opinion if their professional knowledge tells them that it is in the interest of the company to do so. This is not only considered completely legitimate behavior, it is expected behavior in the Danish work place. This is the ethos of the Danish work environment: As a worker, you are paid to contribute to the company with all of your knowledge and you, therefore, must speak up when you have critical knowledge or information. When you do so, you will typically be respected by your co-workers and even management for sharing your honest opinions and knowledge. In general, there is a good atmosphere in the Danish work place where the interaction between employees and superiors is sound and healthy. A healthy interaction, in turn, makes it possible for the company to find critical issues in time and to develop lucrative alternatives that nobody in the management layer of the company may have thought of or previously considered. There many advantages to be gained by respecting your workers and giving them the opportunity and right to speak up as well as giving them credit for and acknowledging their contributions.
Compared to this Danish working environment, however, a lot of Japanese people tend to think that work not fun, but a necessity, a burden or duty we all bear and that we have do our best at. Of course it depends on the person you ask, but as time goes by, many Japanese tend to get settled in their present situation and think that that's just the way things are. They are very proud of their jobs, but as Westerner, sometimes you wonder, what about it is about their job that they are so proud of. Japanese companies, by and large, are known for creating “Yes-men”, meaning whatever the superior officer orders, the worker must obey and follow. The worker's professional opinion is often secondary or even totally ignored no matter the situation or the effectiveness of his opinion. This really reality can really damage a person’s pride and directly and negatively impact his degree of satisfaction with life. This dissatisfaction most often comes out on display after working hours, when Japanese workers go to an “Izakaya” (Japanese-style pub) together, and engage in shop talk and bitch sessions about their bosses. And so it goes day in and day out, month in and month out, year after year. It's a never ending story for many Japanese workers. Yet, Japanese workers seem to have accepted that this is how things work as most of them just don’t know any other way nor see any other alternatives to their present situation.