Nikkei (4/12) reported that a 31-year-old engineer named Arito Takahashi quit his job at a Tokyo IT firm that required him to work until late at night and on weekends. After four years, he was fed up with a corporate culture that forces young employees to compete with one another for senior positions. He instead opted for a job that enables him to achieve his ideal work-life balance under which 70% of his time and energy is spent on personal pursuits. He leaves the office at 5 p.m. to go to the movies and have dinner with friends. “I’m not at all interested in getting a promotion,” says Takahashi, who is much happier now even though he earns far less than before. “Managerial positions come with heavy responsibilities and duties that create physical and mental stress.”
Being promoted used to be viewed as an honor and a reward for good performance, but the past decade has seen the emergence of young people like Takahashi who are not really interested in the benefits of moving up the corporate ladder. A survey (below) of youths aged 20 to 39 in the greater Tokyo metropolitan area carried out by Cross Marketing found that almost six out of ten are not interested in getting promoted. According to another poll conducted by the SANNO Institute of Management last year, only 14.2% of new employees expressed ambition to reach top management, as opposed to 46.7% in 1990. The percentage of those who said they are not interested in career advancement increased from 20% to 31% over the past quarter century. A Tokyo-based human resource development company was surprised that only 4 of the 23 new employees in their 20s at one of its client firms said they want to be promoted to managerial positons in the future. “Although young Japanese are generally diligent, they are not assertive at all. The nation’s future will be at risk if more youths avoid taking responsibility and steer clear of challenging assignments,” said the agency’s president.
Promotion used to be accompanied by higher salaries, more subordinates, greater authority, and status in the workplace, as well as higher credit lines from banks when purchasing homes and cars and financing children’s college education. However, such benefits apparently no longer appeal to young people. On the contrary, they see more demerits than merits in promotion. According to the Cross Marketing poll, the major reason young people don’t seek promotion is the adverse impact it would have on their personal lives. Some don’t want to take on the greater responsibilities associated with promotion, while others believe that monetary
compensation is out of sync with career advancement. “The collapse of the economic bubble [in the early 1990s] ended the era in which salaried workers were able to see a brighter future if they won the corporate rat race by brown-nosing,” said sociologist Toshiyuki Tanaka of Musashi University. “In view of the prolonged economic doldrums at home, young people today think that promotions don’t make much difference when it comes to decision-making power, benefits, and social status.”
Weekly economic magazine Diamond (2015/9/15) reported in an online article that a business is doomed if its young employees are indifferent to moving up the corporate totem pole. The magazine noted that since about half of the young workers polled are still interested in improving their job skills according to the Cross Marketing survey, employers should be able to retain and boost workers’ motivation, morale, and loyalty by giving them more vacation time and better benefits. Nikkei reported on startups that allow junior employees to get involved in corporate decision-making so as to remind them that the management is counting on their input in the hope that this will inspire them to seek higher positions.
Although many young people today try to maintain low profiles in the workplace based on the belief that a job is simply a way to make a living, human resources consultant Ryuta Matsuzawa projected in an entry published on online blog aggregator BLOGOS (2015/10/31) that fewer Japanese firms will be able to let their employees continue being “rank and file” workers in the face of rapid economic globalization and the spread of IT technology, as they are under pressure to outsource work and make use of cheap labor abroad. He explained that more Japanese corporations will be prompted to let go of unmotivated Japanese employees if foreigners in Japan or overseas can perform the same work for less money. The labor expert warned that young people who do not wish to be promoted should be prepared for a possible loss of job security or large pay cut.