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How to recruit in a job-for-life corporate culture

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The ‘job-for-life’ culture is deeply ingrained in the Japanese workforce. Rooted in a sense of loyalty and commitment, this cultural expectation to remain for a long time with one employer has implications for recruitment. Especially for international companies expanding into Japan for the first time.

The prevailing social expectation on workers is that they will pursue a stable, long-term career within a single organization. It doesn’t matter whether an employee is happy or satisfied, they simply are expected to stay.

Perhaps this is why Japanese employees regularly score the lowest marks on job satisfaction in international workplace surveys. One survey found that 42% of Japanese said they were satisfied with their jobs, which was the lowest result of the 34 countries surveyed.

Regular and non-regular workers

A lifetime employee is often known as a regular worker in Japan. They are hired as young graduates and remain at the company until they are aged 60. It is very difficult to terminate their employment, hence “lifetime employment”, and in return these regular employees devote themselves to the company’s needs.

Even the term for job hunting “Shusha” means “to belong”. A sense of belonging and a person’s job are closely tied in Japan.

As a recruiter, it’s important to understand the security of these positions, as it creates a ‘risk aversion’ from candidates who are nervous to change. The culture is not well versed in changing careers for money or opportunity, so introducing your offer sensitively is important.

The consequences of “job hopping”

Traditionally in Japan, employees feared being labeled ‘job-hoppers’ if they even considered changing organizations. While in many other countries, changing jobs is considered a reasonable way to move forward in a career, that is not the case for Japan.

While having a resume full of varied roles at a range of companies might sound like an asset, in Japan it could actually work against you. Preference is given to young workers with no experience who will offer greater retention and stability for the company.

The fear of being stigmatized as a “job-hopper” and jeopardizing future career stability creates a very passive job market with less mobility than many other countries.

Change is coming

The job-for-life culture is slowly shifting, with younger generations calling for greater flexibility and autonomy following the Covid-19 pandemic. The experience of remote work in 2020 gave employees an insight into how life could be improved with more flexibility.

There is less acceptance of exchanging job security for exceptionally long hours. A greater desire for work-life-balance is leading younger workers to change jobs. Freedom is being prioritized over stability.

This presents an opportunity for international companies entering into Japan. They can compete against ‘lifetime employment’ offers from Japanese legacy companies by demonstrating to candidates they offer:

  • Flexible working arrangements
  • Good work culture
  • Clear career trajectory

While the younger generations might be more open to new opportunities, it’s still important to build trust with these candidates. They are still likely to have an aversion to job-hopping and desire stability, so paint a clear picture for them on how they will progress in your organization for 5 years or longer.

Crack the code for recruiting in Japan with Morunda. Book a discovery call and tap into our combined 75 years experience in executive search in Japan.

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