National / Social Issues

Taking workplace bullying in Japan by the horns with power harassment prevention education

Kyodo

In a country famous for conservative company cultures, a Tokyo-based consultancy firm is meeting the demand for training from businesses that are trying to stamp out so-called power harassment by educating nightmare bosses on how to treat subordinates in the workplace.

Why? Because companies are finding that unless workplace bullies are made to realize they are in the wrong, punishing their behavior does not lead to a full resolution.

Expectations are high that “bad boss” training may help improve the workplace environment as companies make serious efforts to combat abuse.

In a culture where authoritarian bosses have been traditionally celebrated for their strong leadership skills that often take the form of ill-tempered outbursts, managers have been known to say they are “only guiding their subordinates,” while questioning why they are being disciplined.

Cuore C3 Co., a consultancy firm that conducts power harassment prevention courses geared toward educating abusive bosses, believes anger directed toward subordinates who have made bullying accusations is commonplace.

The company and its chairwoman Yasuko Okada, the woman credited with coining the term “power harassment,” started a “behavior therapy program” for its client companies in 2014.

Although not a uniquely Japanese phenomenon, the concept of power harassment has become a hot topic here as workplaces have inched toward having a more democratic and modern culture. Behavior once admired is now widely seen as predatory and unpalatable.

Okada said her firm received requests from clients who wanted the behavior of competent, if abusive, employees rectified so they can get them back to work.

“If the thinking, speech and behavior of influential, strong people changes within a company, it is rare to see new cases of abuse occurring,” Okada said.

Each trainee is assigned two instructors for anti-harassment training, which is conducted three times over about six months.

It starts with the boss airing grievances about being labeled abusive. They are encouraged to take note of their own stress as well as mental and physical fatigue — often the result of the pressure of long working hours and high expectations.

On top of this, instructors offer support by asking the trainee to consider how to change their problematic behavior and the manner in which they address junior employees.

So far, about 60 men and women have enrolled in the course. Many are in managerial positions from a variety of industries and range in age from their 40s to 50s.

Some of the trainees are shocked at their own hostile behavior.

“I cringed at my own actions,” one participant said after watching a video of themselves giving instructions to subordinates in a role-play scenario.

Others said they felt relieved after gaining perspective on their own behavior. Company superiors are asked to evaluate trainees on their efforts.

After the program is completed, some companies will conduct similar training to prevent further power harassment in the workplace, including opportunities for the abuser and coworkers to debate the best ways to improve workplace conduct.

With workers who witness power harassment on the job also complaining of the harm it causes, it is not simply an issue that affects the abused and their abuser.

Of 253,000 inquiries made to labor departments nationwide in fiscal 2017, 72,000 involved bullying and harassment — the No. 1 issue for the sixth consecutive year.

An expert review committee from the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry suggested a definition of power harassment in the year through March 2018, but no conclusion was reached on mandatory preventive measures.

Such discussions about whether to enforce preventive measures are likely to be held by the labor policy council in the near future.

Power harassment prevention seminars, which got underway earlier this month, have been conducted nationwide by the labor ministry since fiscal 2013. Eight cities will also begin courses to train experts in power harassment prevention from September.

“There will be concrete preventive measures introduced, so we would like many companies to actively participate,” said a person in charge of the seminars.