BBC Interview on Japanese business culture – Work Style Reform

5 April 2019


In the UK, there is strong interest in Japan.  Japanese culture and business are often featured on radio and TV.

On the 3rd April, our MD Masako Eguchi-Bacon was interviewed by the BBC radio programme, “BBC Scotland Kaye Adams Show”, and talked about Japanese corporate culture.

The programme explained that Japan has made its Working Style Reform legislation effective on the 1st April.  It is beyond belief for people in the UK and Europe that a very long-hour working week has been normal in Japan for decades.  “Karoshi – death by overwork” has only recently been recognised as a serious social issue and the government had to impose legislation to prevent it.


Here is summary of the interview.


Q: Why do you think the “work first” and “overwork” values developed in Japan?

A: From the 1960s to the beginning of the 1970s, Japan experienced a period of high economic growth and achieved an annual compound growth rate of more than 10%.  Japanese people, as is their nature, are very diligent, but I believe during this period, people started prioritising work above their personal life.


Q: No matter how hard you work, is “Karoshi” accepted?

A: “Karoshi” is not accepted at all.  However, during the high economic growth period, the more you worked, the more achievement (both from skills and financial perspective) you could make.  As the country’s economy grew, people started enjoying their wealth.  Therefore, more people devoted themselves to work and companies started regarding long working hours as a sign of good performance.


Q:  When you worked with a Japanese company, how did people react to working overtime?

A:  In general, if you work long hours, people think you are good, therefore I rarely saw people who left an office at 5:00 or 6:00pm.   Staff felt bad to leave earlier than their managers and managers didn’t think it right to leave earlier than their staff, which was certainly a vicious circle.   As a common custom, people have drinks or a meal after work with their colleagues to discuss projects, and often business decisions are made over the table.


Q: When you work for such long hours, how about productivity?  What do you think of it compared with the UK companies?

A: Soon after I started working with anUK company, I was so surprised that everyone finished work at the regular finish time.  People rarely went out for a drink with their colleagues and I could see a clear line of “after work is time with my family.”, which was a good surprise for me.

During the working hours, people concentrated on work.  Some of them took lunch at their desk in order to complete as many tasks as possible.  

I thought that their productivity was much higher than Japanese people’s.

I also remember that when tasks cannot be completed during the agreed working hours, the staff and her/his manager would analyse the volume and nature of the work and then change their allocation.


Q:  Which working style do you prefer between the UK and Japan?

A:  I find the UK style suits my values.  The UK has a more flexible work-life balance, where people and companies can sometimes agree part-time working, or working from home, depending on an individual’s values and lifestyle.  

It is a shared view in the UK that work should not control your life, although we spend most of our hours at work during the working week.