National / Media | Japan Pulse

Pandemic spurs some in Japan to reassess employment options

by Kaori Shoji

Contributing writer

It was only a matter of time before the economic headwinds of COVID-19 had people examining their own personal circumstances.

First came a wave of korona rikon, or people who were seriously considering filing for divorce because they were struggling to handle the stress COVID-19 was placing on their marriages.

In recent weeks, however, attention appears to have shifted from their relationships to their employment status, with an increasing number of social media users expressing a desire to quit their jobs, something dubbed “korona rishoku.”

In the middle of May, a number of workers began to be furloughed and let go because businesses were struggling to pay the rent.

Social media was rife with stories about employees who were suddenly fired from their jobs, or part timers who were pressured into signing resignation forms. Things were particularly bad in cities such as Kyoto, where small, independent companies faced a rapid downturn in revenue following the nationwide shutdown, forcing some to resort to underhand tactics to avoid having to pay severance packages.

Now, as Japan cautiously settles into the groove of the new normal, others are starting to consider leaving a job of their own free will.

As an article published in Gendai Business explains, some employees have discovered that absence from the office hasn’t exactly made the heart grow fonder in terms of their employers. The two-plus months of working from home now appear to be amplifying existing issues in the workplace, many of which had likely been festering before the pandemic struck.

Employees have expressed anxiety about how the pandemic could affect the companies they work for, as well as a lack of faith in their employers in terms of handling the situation.

Some have even complained about feeling as if they’re constantly under surveillance as they work in a remote capacity.

Business analyst Keiichi Kaya tells Shukan Gendai that telework may have liberated employees from crowded commutes but it has also thrust them into a brand new world of face-to-face meetings online, something that harks back to the days of the old Showa Era (1926-89) mentality when “office management was constantly in your face.”

Kaya suggests that online meetings can conjure up a feeling that one’s privacy is being invaded. He says some managers appear to have criticized or teased employees about their living arrangements, while others have requested workers to show more of their surroundings, something that borders on harassment. In a few cases, employees have been asked to leave their computers on at all times of the day in order to make themselves available to their managers 24/7.

Then there are cases that are simply depressing. A father of three told the Asahi Shimbun that he had resigned from his job after being refused a request to take paid leave in order to look after his children amid the school closures. His employer reacted by calling him unfit for the job and describing him as the “lowest” form of human being.

“The coronavirus has shown me the company’s true colors,” the father says, vowing never to return.

Experts are urging companies to be more flexible and understanding, as well as learning to respect their employees’ privacy.

“You can tell a lot about a boss by watching how they react in a time of crisis,” Kaya writes. “It’s important for bosses to be aware that, just as they may be watching their workers, their workers may also have their eyes on them.”

An online contribution by Naoto Narita in Diamond magazine says managers really needed to be handling the situation when the nation was in a state of emergency.

“A lot of essential workers are reliable citizens who have promised to stay with their companies in times of need,” Narita writes. “As such, they’ll typically hide their frustration and keep working. However, once things get back to normal, it may be too late to entice them to remain working for you and your organization.”

An article on the Fukuracia website says that it’s important for companies to take measures to prevent an uptick in resignations, recommending that managers nurture a good rapport with their staff.

“Make full use of email and chat applications to let the employee know that they are part of a team,” the online publication says. “Online or off, communication is key to preventing staff from leaving the company.”

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