It happens: A job you love sours, or a job you’ve only just started proves very different from what you had imagined it would be. Whether due to miscommunication, a toxic environment, or a variety of other problems, you’ve reached the point where you’re considering quitting.
In this three-part series, we’ll discuss common workplace issues and potential solutions, how to plan and execute your resignation, and finally, where to find legal help if all attempts to solve problems peacefully fail. In this post, we’ll look at issues that might arise and how to deal with them.
Misunderstandings Caused by Cultural Differences
No office is immune to workplace problems, particularly workplaces boasting an international staff. While a multicultural office can bring a world of different experiences and skill sets to the table, it can also lead to trouble.
A 2019 Persol Group survey found that 34.3 percent of responding Japanese managers overseeing foreign staff experienced stress resulting from the situation. Given the chance to specify the reasons for stress, managers highlighted several issues that fall under communication style, from an excess of assertiveness to a perceived lack of common sense.
It’s not just the managers feeling the frustration; foreign-national workers struggle with the same issues, but in reverse. There is confusion when assertiveness is poorly received and frustration when it feels as though important information hasn’t been adequately communicated.
Compared to many other cultures, the Japanese culture is indirect and non-confrontational. It’s also high context, meaning fewer words can be used to convey meaning. When these traits meet more direct communication styles and low-context cultures—which rely on more detailed explanations to convey meaning—hard feelings and misunderstandings can arise.
Work through these issues by educating yourself: Ask Japanese friends for advice, search out websites specializing in intercultural business relations, socialize with coworkers at work events, and pay careful attention to body language, pauses in speech and facial expressions. And if you’re still unsure of expectations or meanings, try drawing out details by asking questions that can’t be answered with a simple “yes” or “no.”
Dealing with a Toxic Workplace
Not all problems are the result of crossed cultural wires, however. Sometimes, workplaces are simply dysfunctional and/or exploitative. In fact, the problem of toxic workplaces is so widespread in Japan that the term “black company” (burakku kigyo) was coined to label companies with particularly awful reputations.
Workplace harassment and abuse are often discussed in the media, with pawahara (abuse of power or workplace bullying), matahara (discrimination against pregnant women) and sekuhara (sexual harassment) oft-examined topics. But just because the issues are well known doesn’t mean they’re easy to navigate.
If you’re experiencing harassment, start by writing it down in as much detail as possible. Take photographs if you’ve been injured. Any attempts to deal with the issue informally should be noted. Having this information will help clarify the problem, and if the issue is ongoing, will help illustrate that it wasn’t a one-off incident or misunderstanding.
If your company has a consultation system for workplace bullying complaints, take your record to the point of contact. Since 2020, having such a system has been a requirement for large companies. The requirement will extend to small- and medium-sized companies in June 2022.
Once set in motion, complaints should be dealt with swiftly and with sensitivity. If not, take your case to an organization providing consultation services and counselling for work-related problems, some of which will be introduced later in this article.
Violations of the Labour Standards Act
Though black companies may not like to admit it, Japan does have laws to protect employees from predatory employers: the Labour Standards Act.
The act governs working conditions and issues related to workplace safety, and annuls any illegal terms included in a work contract. Comprehensive in scope, the act can be found online in an unofficial English translation.
Common issues that arise in the workplace include forced overtime, paid or not; a refusal to grant paid leave; unpaid wages; a refusal to accept an employee’s resignation; and unlawful dismissal. Problems unique to foreign-national workers include threats to terminate work visas and discrimination based on nationality or ethnicity. The Japan External Trade Organization (JETRO) has detailed information on these and more issues, a link to which can be found below.
Should you find yourself dealing with labour law violations, your first action should be to bring the problem up with your employer and to document it. A failure to do so could mean problems later on if you need to resort to mediation or court proceedings, with your employer claiming they were never made aware of the problem.
A number of organizations offer free consultations on employment-related issues, with some providing multilingual service and foreign-national-specific advice.
The Tokyo Employment Consultation Centre (TECC) focuses on preventing issues from arising in the first place and provides consultation services to both employers and employees, while the Tokyo Employment Service Centre for Foreigners provides job counselling and placement services. Though focused on supporting job seekers and providing unemployment benefits, Hello Work, the Japanese government’s public employment security office, can also provide some support for workplace issues.
The Human Rights Bureau, operated by the Ministry of Justice, doesn’t deal specifically with employment issues, but offers counselling services for problems that often arise in the workplace, including bullying and sexual harassment. Also broad in scope, the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Foreign Residents’ Advisory Center provides consultations and counselling on topics related to living and working in Japan.
For consultation services on the Japanese legal system, bar associations and other related topics, contact Houterasu (Japan Legal Support Centre). Service is available in several languages.
Labour law violations should be taken to your nearest Labour Standards Inspection Office for a consultation with an advisor specializing in foreign-national workers. Available languages depend on the office.
It’s not uncommon to experience unpleasant issues in the workplace from time to time, particularly when immersed in a foreign culture and language. Though thoughts may drift to resignation, it’s worthwhile seeing if problems can be remedied. From familiarizing yourself with cultural communication norms to seeking outside advice and mediation, a variety of options exist for working through workplace troubles.
Human Rights Bureau
Human Rights Counseling Offices for Foreigners
Labour Standards Inspection Office Contact Information
Tokyo Employment Service Centre for Foreigners
Houterasu (Japan Legal Support Centre)
For Foreign Nationals Wishing to Work in Japan (Hello Work)
Please note that we are not responsible for links to third-party websites.
Jobs for Foreign Software Engineers
Japan’s IT Industry
- Characteristics of the Japanese IT Industry
- Japanese Language Levels for IT Industry Jobs
- The Benefits of Working at a Tech Company
- The Disadvantages of Working at a Tech Company