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Posted by Tim Bryce on January 28, 2013


– Thanks to the Internet, the work habits of other countries is changing.

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When I began visiting Japan in the late 1970’s, I was somewhat taken aback by some of the business customs of the day which I considered rather unusual. Unlike American businesses, protocol and honor were of paramount importance. Everyone knew their place in the pecking order of business, and never did anything to violate the integrity of the family and company (aka, “Saving Face”). This was never quite as apparent as when making introductions in business, a very formal affair as opposed to Americans who tend to treat it more frivolously. Japanese culture emphasizes each employee should lead an honorable and respectable life. Both the manager and employee were cognizant of this and act accordingly.

A couple of other incidents caught my attention:

In most offices, desks were organized in a symmetrical classroom format, with the manager’s desk typically in the middle of the room, along with a small meeting area usually consisting of either two sofas or a table and chairs for meetings. There was no partitioning of desks or cubicles for privacy. Everyone could see and hear everyone else in the office. Remarkably, the office was generally quiet and quite productive as a result of this format. I visited one such office with our Japanese representative where we met with the manager to discuss our product. While my rep was talking in his native tongue I would occasionally look around to study the layout of the office. Suddenly, I was taken by surprise when a young man a few rows away from me, jumped up on his desk and read something aloud to his fellow employees. Everyone dutifully stopped, listened, and applauded when he finished. Afterwards I asked my rep what all the hubbub was about. He explained to me it was nothing special, the employee just read a small speech to his fellow employees on how proud and pleased he was to work for this company and the people in his department. “It happens all the time,” my rep said.

I replied, “Not where I come from.”

I also learned it was a taboo to openly criticize your manager and talk back. Knowing this might cause frustration, companies provided a small room adjoining the office where an employee could go in and, using a bamboo cane, beat an effigy of the boss, thereby relieving the worker’s passions. As strange as this custom sounded, it worked.

Unlike most American companies, where the individual is encouraged to kick, scratch and claw their way to the top, in Japan I learned it was typical for a class of workers to enter a company at the same time and work in different capacities, yet all are on a predefined ten year career path. During this time they are carefully scrutinized in terms of their performance and attitudes towards work. At the end of the ten years, the class is evaluated and individuals are either promoted or demoted based on their service with the company. Again, this was atypical from American custom.

All of this has changed a lot over the last fifteen years with the propagation of the Internet whereby oung Japanese workers took note of the laid back attitudes of their American counterparts. Protocol and honor are still important to the Japanese, but not to the degree they once were. They have also become less industrious preferring to have more free time. Their emphasis on teamwork is slowly deteriorating and becoming more individualistic in attitude. For example, office partitioning is now found in Japanese offices, as is gossip and politics.

This is an interesting phenomenon and demonstrates the power of the Internet and how our attitudes towards work affects others. Who knows? If the Japanese had invented the Internet first, maybe we would all be using bamboo canes today.

Keep the Faith!

Note: All trademarks both marked and unmarked belong to their respective companies.

Tim Bryce is a writer and the Managing Director of M&JB Investment Company (M&JB) of Palm Harbor, Florida and has over 30 years of experience in the management consulting field. He can be reached at

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Copyright © 2013 by Tim Bryce. All rights reserved.

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  1. Dustin Tarditi said

    A shame to see them pick up our bad habits! Meanwhile, the country of Japan is suffering a shrinking population and cultural malaise.

    There was a day when gentlemen wore suits to work and church, held doors open for ladies, or vacated a seat for their elders or a lady. Bygones, I suppose. I still try to raise my boys with that amount of respect and decorum, but I’m definitely swimming against the current of pop culture.

    Change and innovation are not to be feared, but should be monitored to be sure they manifest into progress.


  2. Tim Bryce said

    A B.W. of Macon, Georgia wrote…

    “My wife, son and I were privileged to have been able to spend a couple of years in Japan. It was a rewarding experience to say the least. Being with the Depart of Defense instead of military, we did not live on base. As soon as I knew I was headed for Japan, I read all I could find on the cultures and mannerisms of the people. I did not endeavor to learn the language although now I know I would have been richer if I had. We followed their customs as near as possible without comprising our own values. When we ate out, was usually at a restaurant in whatever town we visited. We found the folks lovable and friendly and more important honest. If I told my lady we were going back to Japan, she would not even stop to pack a bag, We loved the people and the country.

    Sad to hear it getting “Americanized””


  3. Tim Bryce said

    A G.R. of Tampa, Florida wrote…

    “Nice article, Tim.

    I’d love to be a fly on the wall as a newbie (or anyone else) took a cane to an effigy of the Boss in one of the more Tampa Bay corporate sites.

    Cultural competency is a state of on-going expectation that the other guy sees the world in a different way from the way you see it. The awareness of different worldviews and assumptions isn’t only tied to nationality and ethnicity, but to profession, generation, gender, (dis)ability, preferred modalities, etc.

    Fortunately, the world will never become American (even Americans will never become homogeneous) but with time, and a lot of training, we will learn to anticipate the differentness within each other.”


  4. Tim Bryce said

    A U.V. of Largo, Florida wrote…

    “Very interesting. The orientals always had the discipline angle going. It worked for them.”


  5. Tim Bryce said

    A J.S. of Skidway Lake, Michigan wrote…

    “This sounds so civilized and respectful. If I were the boss, I’d be a little bit concerned as to why an employee was beating my image, but I’m sure it’s better than a punch in my real nose.”


  6. Tim Bryce said

    A B.R. of Templeton, California wrote…

    “It’s a shame that the bad work habits and attitudes of many American employees are now spreading to some of the Japanese.”


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