Two senior business executives enjoying lifetime employment in Japan stand out in a motion-blurred crowd

Using Japanese Values to Thrive in Global Business

Japanese companies have unique cultural, communication, and operational challenges. But they also have values that have led to remarkable longevity. Check out this seminar to hear how these values help earn trust from overseas head offices and develop employees.

Lifetime job security is one of the most famous Japanese business culture mysteries.

From 2014-2019 or so, the age of retirement in Japan was pushed back—first from 60 to 65, and then from 65 to 70. Following this trend, the Japanese government might be urging companies to accept employees move the retirement age to 80 by 2025.

All of this is happening due to the anticipated labor shortage caused by an aging society and depopulation. According to the United Nations, in 2017, 33.4% of the total population in Japan was aged over 60. It was further estimated that by 2050, the percentage could increase to 42.4%.

For further insight into the future of lifetime employment in Japan, GLOBIS alumnus Kurtz Law interviewed GLOBIS lecturer Fumiaki Tajiri.

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Job Skills vs. the Age of Retirement in Japan

Kurtz Law: Do you think the skills and experience of elderly employees will be relevant to a modern workforce?

Fumiaki Tajiri: Absolutely, yes. Age is just a number. What is key to this employment discussion, much more than age, is the acquisition and possession of modern skills, aptitudes, and affinities.

Many businesses today are looking at various methods of hiring, training, and retraining their existing and future talent. They’re hiring from much wider and more diverse talent pools than ever before, and highly skilled seniors are seeing as much recruiter attention as any other group with special or diverse needs.

Law: Will Japanese people over the age of 60 be interested in acquiring these skills? Or will they work purely out of necessity?

Tajiri: Many people in Japan have a very high social commitment, and they also exhibit high intellectual curiosity. People of all ages spend their free time learning new skills, languages, and modern technology. Self-development and social contribution are embraced by many as social norms.

Using Japanese Values to Thrive in Global Business

Japanese companies have unique cultural, communication, and operational challenges. But they also have values that have led to remarkable longevity. Check out this seminar to hear how these values help earn trust from overseas head offices and develop employees.

Market-savvy people invest in their self-development from a very early age.

Even after retirement, many people choose to continue working in one way or another. Businesses are looking at opportunities to re-hire these types of highly experienced talent and bring them back into the workforce for as long as they choose to be professionally active.

Adapting Employment Systems to Lifetime Employment in Japan

Law: Do Japanese organizations have the infrastructure to acquire or retain senior talent?

Tajiri: Existing hiring systems need to be revisited and revised in order to accommodate the needs of our modern workforce. But this is not only about senior employees – many organizations are exploring new hiring models to fit in as much diverse talent as possible.

Law: What kind of work styles would most effectively utilize senior talent?

Tajiri: Remote working—either working from home or from anywhere else—temporary work, and so many other alternative employment schemes.

Although change never comes easily, I see an increasing number of Japanese organizations willing to transform their employment practices for a more diverse talent population. That includes everyone: people coming in from other countries, people who have been away from the workforce for a while, and, of course, senior citizens.

Our markets are more agile, digitally intelligent, collaborative, and convergent than ever before, and our modern talent operations need to reflect that. One pattern doesn’t fit all any longer.

Corporate Japan is rapidly becoming aware of this.

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Diversity in the Japanese Workplace Then & Now

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Young people hurry across a crosswalk on the way to their offices, showing growing diversity in the Japanese workplace

Law: How might Japanese companies ensure the health and safety of its elderly employees?

Tajiri: The concept of “work” needs to be redefined. Alternative options need to be developed for those who are interested in co-creation, but who do not necessarily need to be constantly in the office.

This is, once again, not only about senior citizens, but also working mothers, expecting mothers, and people with disabilities or special needs.

Diversity is a key competency for innovation and business transformation. Smart business will learn how to embrace modern practices and available technologies to update their employee value proposition and customize working experiences. There is no way around this and no turning back.

More Seniors & Seniority

Law: There’s a lot of talk today about lingering age-based promotion systems. What is your opinion about this?

Tajiri: I wish that seniority-based promotion were already a thing of the past.

Unfortunately, there are still many organizations struggling to transform traditional talent operations. These are frequently businesses that struggle with innovation in general, in terms of business strategy, products, and services. Many of these businesses fail to effectively engage their diverse talent. As a result, they rapidly become homes to self-entitled and short-sighted senior citizens—workplaces where diversity does not thrive.

Most of us have seen a famous Japanese business go bankrupt or get taken over by foreign competition. Failing to invest in talent operations or disconnect from irrelevant operations has a big part in this. It’s much more than a cash flow problem—it is a matter of culture.

Brands such as Fujifilm, TDK, Sony, and Japan Airlines have made full use of their diverse talent pools—everyone from the digitally savvy millennial to the most experienced senior employees.

Seniority is not a burden. Rather, it carries a lot of cultural gravitas, class, and dignity. Managed properly, it connects to a unique competitive advantage.

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