Anger Management in Tokyo

Workplace bullying is unlikely to stop

Photo by sebastiaan stam on Unsplash

At the central location of Toyosu district lies the tall and yet mysterious skyscraper in 37 story floors around residential urban planning of post-Olympics in 2021. The building houses roughly 10,000 software engineers for legacy systems. Legacy systems on clients’ sites were equipped with mainframe computer with a central memory for time-sharing service during 1960’s. Legacy engineers worked around the clock on coding COBOL, third generation language. In a hope to release the surmounting stress, IT engineers still smoke a lot of tobaccos in isolated outdoor hatch with a shadow roof where rumors can be heard through the microphone equipped in the columns.

Some smokers in legacy were violent and abusive. They don’t pay attention to an early passage of anti-harassment legislation. In fact, they don’t care about psychological damage of developers in the software house. That is part of my short experience in one of major system integrators in Tokyo. Work was very hard from 9:00 am to late at night. During the night, its business development group called itself Business Innovation Office, which was designed to develop a request for proposal for the medium sized firms in Tokyo. Their systems left behind the current trend of IT evolution such as e-commerce. Digital architecture deployment was far from reality. Yet, the IT firm attracted experts from ex-Accenture engineers from post-Lehman shock wave.

A June story of “Anger Management” by the Economist depicts the ever-lasting situation of legislative action to the complaints of harassment in the workplace. Filed statistics stood at 82,797 cases in 2018 and perhaps must have reached the 90,000 mark. These numbers are the under-reported cases for pre-trial settlement. In reality, the hidden bullying is insurmountable in Tokyo and Osaka. The labor ministry disclosed the survey of office harassment and it found that a third of Japanese had actually been exposed to the involvement of untoward attacks from immediate bosses. The government passed the preventive law, demanding that firms develop clear policies of reporting mechanism and internal procedure with surveillance.

Defined by labor ministry, the power harassment consists of six domains: physical attacks, mental attacks, social isolation, excessive demands, demeaning demands and privacy infringements. These types of abuse are described with simplified examples such as throwing office supplies to subordinates. The typical trouble in the Tokyo office is based on the fact that a boss is not necessarily a nice person who performs at work but is regularly bad at his behavior. Subordinates cannot choose an immediate boss to work with in the overloaded project. Hierarchical layers in office command and control tower strenuously block competent professionals from hopping between internal assignments. When a bad luck falls on, an individual is soothed by a good number of silent observers to stay very patient on the rigid chair with no arms for three years until the new assignment transfer sends them to dwell on the similar dull project. Relationship matters before a subtle disagreement evolves into disobedience and organized revenge.

Firms will be in a hurry to develop unrealistic policy. In my experience with IT deployment projects in such corporations as Coca-Cola, Mitsubishi, and Unisys, the initiative was well designed by headquarters operating office, which provided them with formal training in a form of lecture, discussion, and e-learning. Despite the practice of executing pre-emptive measures, the workplace bullying had never been coming to an end among competing employees. It was unlikely to stop.

Non-Japanese business operations left behind office troubles in Tokyo. During my employment at an investment bank in Kasumigaseki, the work stress piled on very high and the nature of work was excessively painful. The competition was fierce. It was a jungle in the Amazon River. Notorious scene remains true in the old day. As a popular book in Michael Lewis, “Liar’s Poker”, accurately describes it, the bond and stock traders in terminals attacks anything in all directions. They threw office materials and trashes around their desks. It was not just a behavior in the inappropriate manner but the words they used were absolutely annoying. In later career, to my surprise, bosses in IT engagement drew an identically brutal picture.

Ariake is a main spot for Olympics next year. Hidden in an unreported case, power harassment attaches with the coincidental cases in deeply rooted Japanese office legacy. It should not be on the spotlight. It should never be mentioned in public for the integrity of the collective society. But the abusive case is undoubtedly expected to rise with new anti-harassment legislation passed by the Diet. The workplace abuse is unlikely to stop with corporate policy because few employees don’t know what to do with a lawsuit. It is not certainly an option that the victims stay speechless, either. Pick up the smartphone and call the toll-free number at the Terrace with proper evidence.



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Hiroshi Hatano

Taught marketing @ universities in Tokyo, ex-I-banker @ UBS & mgmt consultant @ Kurt Salmon (Accenture Strategy now), Utah, Michigan + Georgia Tech educated