On working overtime in Japan

21 Nov

One of the most shocking things I’ve learned about working culture in Japan is that it’s very common indeed for companies to not pay for working overtime. And that’s not just not paying extra when working overtime — it literally means you won’t get any money after 8 hours, and yet you are often asked to or otherwise compelled to work far longer than that.

It’s illegal, of course, but no-one seems to care much; it looks like there are still many Japanese people who find you respectable if you work overtime without pay, and you would be considered stupid if you tried to sue your company for that — and of course, you would most likely also lose your job if you did that, and I bet it would be hard if not impossible to try and find another job after that.

It’s so common that companies sometimes write “Work hours: 8 hours + 2 hours unpaid every day” in their ads when they look for new employees.

A quick calculation tells us you would be working 10 hours unpaid every week. That’s 40 hours in a month; in other words, in a month you would be doing a week’s worth of work without getting anything from it.

Objecting would naturally lead to unemployment, and seeing how hard it seems to be to get a job in Japan these days — especially if you’ve quit your old job yourself or refuse to work overtime without pay — most Japanese people just go with it.

According to my Japanese fiancé, it’s all because working, having a job, and money are all valued above pretty much anything else in Japan. Sure there are people who think differently, especially among the younger generation, but what can they do? Their society is built that way, it’s not like they can change it just like that. And this is one reason why there are so many unemployed young people in Japan, as well as an increasing number of Japanese people moving abroad, to work in a country which respects individuals more than Japan (from my viewpoint, that doesn’t require much, to be honest).

If you tried to make people work unpaid 2 hours a day in my country, Finland, your company would go bankrupt before you even realize. No-one would do it.

Sure, I did read a news article a few days ago stating that Finnish people are doing overtime without pay because they can’t finish everything during the 8 hour days, but we’re definitely not speaking about 40 hours a month.

It’s also a completely different thing to use your own freetime to finish your work properly than to actually be required to do 2 hours extra without pay every single day. And anyway; it’s really uncommon in Finland compared to Japan even if it got to the news — at least I haven’t even heard of anyone who does that much overtime regularly, even with pay!

As much as I used to like Japan due to the country’s entertaining pop culture, interesting literature, beautiful traditions and highly interesting language, it’s things like these that are making me never want to live longer than a few years over there. I feel sorry for my fiancé who is extremely liberal in his way of thinking; it’s no wonder he feels chained and suffocating in Japan, where he’s considered a bad bad person just because he doesn’t want to work 12 hours a day with a low pay and INSANE requirements of speed and quality and so on!

Sure, there are probably a lot of good places to work at in Japan, but the fact that stuff like this even exists (I just find it outrageous that they’re making people work overtime without ANY pay!) tells a lot about the general opinion in the country and its society.

My fiancé never misses a chance to diss how much Japanese people value money and work. So many Japanese value them over family, for example, as you can deduce from how much husbands work, leaving their wives and kids alone at home. Sure, they might get some good financial support from him, but does that really compensate love and time spent together? Not from my point of view, but it’s still really common in Japan.

We can only hope things will change over time in Japan too, which seems possible if the younger generation follows their hearts more than the ideals they’ve been brought up to respect.


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