Workstyle reform to harness a diversity of personnel (2)

February 7, 2018 [No.48-2017]

Hiroshi Kitani, Professor
Graduate School of Business Administration
Prefectural University of Hiroshima


Part 2: The reality of diversity in Japanese companies


1. Diversity is an individual commitment

Over the last few years, the Japanese government has been creating a series of policies related to personnel diversity. These include promoting the use of female employees (one of the pillars of economic growth under Abenomics), increasing the legal employment rate for the disabled through the Revised Act on Employment Promotion, etc. of Persons with Disabilities, ongoing employment for all elderly persons who wish to be employed based on the Revised Act on Stabilization of Employment of Elderly Persons, providing for non-regular employees through clear demarcation of the conditions for transferring to permanent employment through the Revised Labor Contract Act, studies on encouraging the hiring of foreign workers due to the shrinking workforce, and initiatives to reform workstyles. In addition to these national-level changes, “diversity management,” such as the operation of overseas subsidiaries for companies facing fierce global competition, is becoming an increasingly important issue. The fact that diversity management is required today suggests that in the past, management was based on a homogenous workforce. Diversity management is all about making use of employees with a range of constraints or commitments (employees with commitments), and the reality of diversity in corporate management is precisely these various commitments faced by each employee. The important thing is not that women, the elderly, non-regular employees, or foreigners are the only ones with commitments, but the fact that all working people can have some form of constraint or commitment in terms of harmonizing their private and working lives.
Ideas on diversity were spread by civil rights movements in the United States, and in the 1960s and ’70s, diversity was a target of, for example, campaigns for equality of employment opportunities. From the late 1980s, the debate changed to respecting diversity, and at the start of the 1990s, it transformed into a resource for creating value in businesses. At present, it is considered to be an initiative to accept people with a diverse range of backgrounds and cultures or personal qualities into organizations and use them to increase the organization’s performance. The current corporate environment has changed dramatically thanks to rapid globalization and changes in society, the economy, technology and values since the 1990s. In addition to M&A with overseas companies, issues related to encouraging the utilization of women, the hiring of the disabled, sustained employment or rehiring of the elderly, and foreign workers are important themes that no company can overlook. The theme of “adapting to diversity = utilization of employees with commitments” is a new one for Japan, but remains a core theme in Western companies.


2. Redefining the work-life balance to reform workstyles

One clear limitation was discovered in the initiative to promote work-life balance in Japanese society, which started in 2007. This was the simple fact that it would be impossible to achieve a work-life balance with the current working style. Incidentally, the definition of work-life balance by the UK’s Department of Trade and Industry (DTI), which played a major role in spreading the concept internationally, is as follows.

Work-life balance is about adjusting working patterns. Regardless of age, race or gender, everyone can find a rhythm to help them combine work with their other responsibilities or aspirations.

In other words, adjusting working patterns (changing working methods; workstyle reform) is a necessary condition for achieving work-life balance, and as long as the old, fixed working methods remain, it will not be possible to achieve work-life balance. In contrast to the DTI, the definition used in Japan’s Work-Life Balance Charter was as follows.

When everyone, young or old, male or female, can achieve the balance they desire in their various activities, such as work, home, the community, or their own personal growth.

It should be obvious that this concept lacks any stated method. Japan’s work-life balance policy is being promoted without its nucleus: the key aspect of change in workstyles; that is, people with commitments—and so its limitations are becoming obvious in the state, in companies, and in the individual. It may be no exaggeration to say that only now, after nearly a decade has passed, are steps finally being taken towards reforming workstyles. Japan’s work-life balance has made progress, starting with Phase I (2007–2011), when the concept of work-life balance was initially promoted, then Phase II (2012–2016), when the numerical targets were missed and numerous issues were brought to light, and now in Phase III, which aims to bring about workstyle reform. The chance for a diversity of personnel, with a diversity of commitments, to play active roles will determine the outcome of future workstyle reforms.

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