In the streets of Nihonbashi, Tokyo, around the offices of Takeda, Daiichi, and Astellas, some of Japan’s leading pharmaceutical companies, not much has changed on the surface. The restaurants are full at lunchtime, and it’s hard to get a seat at Starbucks.
Beneath the surface, however, among the next generation of executives, there is a groundswell of changing expectations. Employees expect more of their leaders and will no longer sit idly by and not have their voices heard. COVID has moved the needle of the relationship between employee and employer. Once, the ever-faithful Japanese worker would commute faithfully to their desk to put in, at times, 12-to-14-hour days. But now, the opportunity to work from home is a given.
During interviews, one question candidates will definitely ask is, “What is the work-from-home policy?” All our clients are now moving toward a hybrid model. Employees are now able to explore opportunities more easily with online meetings, which is great for companies wanting to hire but can create challenges for companies wanting to retain staff.
Companies such as Sanofi have reduced their floor space, and many have a hot desk model, where even the executives do not have their own offices. This is a cost-saving measure and perhaps a sign that people want and are happy with a flexible, open workspace. Technology has enabled an ease of communication while, on the flip side, introducing new challenges for building camaraderie between colleagues.
Some companies have tapped into the traditional rajio taiso (ラジオ体操), radio calisthenics, allowing teams to come together, get warmed up physically, and share a lighthearted moment. Others have a set time on Friday afternoon, once used to slip out to the local izakaya (bar), now spent playing online games from home with coworkers.
COVID has changed Japan’s work culture, perhaps forever. I have often expected to see a regression back to “normal”; however, two and a half years in, there may be no going back. The new generation won’t have it! More and more, they are focused on ikigai, their purpose or reason for living. The concept gives one a direction and the determination to keep going, is essence it’s “our why. It’s about stopping and smelling the roses.
Perhaps more time at home and away from the office has allowed people to tap into their ikigai.