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More than 60 percent of universities in Japan received complaints from students this year about a practice known as owahara, a shortened version of “shukatsu oware harassment,” or “End your job hunting! harassment.” The harassment comes from companies that coerce students into halting their job hunt early, without looking at other possibilities, in exchange for an informal job offer.

Ending the anxiety-filled hunt for a good job should be a moment of relief and satisfaction. However, when the hunt ends prematurely under pressure, it is anything but satisfying. It is another type of workplace harassment, or rather pre-workplace harassment, and should be considered not-so-subtle blackmail.

The survey, conducted by employment information company Disco Inc., found that 64.8 percent of the 267 universities polled had received student requests for advice about owahara. The numbers indicate the practice is widespread. The survey found that 52.1 percent of universities received complaints that companies demanded students submit a letter of commitment following an informal job offer.

Other complaints were about companies demanding that students stop looking at other possible employers in return for an informal job offer and about students being asked to turn down informal job offers from other firms. Irrespective of how the pressure is applied, owahara is, like other forms of harassment, an abuse of power, in this case the power to not hire.

Like other forms of harassment, owahara violates the basic rights of those with little power to resist and no place to complain. Students weary of the search may capitulate to such pressure, but the number of complaints shows students may not be as naive and submissive as companies imagine. Students know that an early, exclusive commitment limits their possibility of finding the right place for them to work.

Companies that engage in such practices have a poor conception of personnel management. A company with genuine pride should tell students to go ahead and look around at other employers, confident that students will eventually decide to work for them. Owahara reveals great uncertainty and diffidence on the part of those firms.

Companies that engage in owahara may fulfill their hiring quotas early, but they may not necessarily improve their workforce. Employees hired through intimidation are unlikely to be completely satisfied. Once students bullied into accepting such offers rethink how they were hired, they may see it for what it is, coercion instead of free choice. That is no basis for motivating employees.

The current system of job-hunting, regardless of whether the official season is moved forward or back a few months, annexes a huge block of study time from students. It forces students to quit attending classes in their final year to engage in the full-time job hunt. Owahara only adds greater anxiety, pressure and confusion to this flawed system without improving conditions for either employees or employers.

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