Why do foreigners leave their jobs at Japanese companies?

In this installment of the how to work in Japan series, we take a look at the flip side of researching average salaries in Japan, finding a job, and getting a work visa. No matter what country you work in or what company you work for, it’s very rare for anyone to spend their entire working life at one company. It may be hard to find your dream job at a Japanese company, but it doesn’t mean that people don’t also leave for various reasons.

At Real Estate Japan, we’re interested in covering topics that will help you have a happy and productive life in Japan. It’s good to be aware of both the upsides and downsides, so you know what to expect. So, why do people (foreigners, to be precise) leave their jobs at Japanese companies, and are the main underlying reasons specific to Japanese corporate culture? Of course, the answer is different for everyone. Below we present some observations and data that will hopefully provide some insight into some of the issues specific to working at a Japanese company.

Why do foreigners leave their jobs at Japanese companies?

If you want a great answer to this question, talk to a friend about their experience working for a Japanese company and why they’re still working there or why they’ve left.

As a second best answer, let’s look at some survey data. The following data comes from a survey conducted by DISCO, a human resources company specializing in recruiting bilingual employees, to better understand the issues that Japanese companies face in hiring and retaining foreign employees.

The internet-based survey was conducted in December 2018 and was sent to 23,582 companies nationwide.

Valid answers were received from 732 companies (313 of which had less than 300 employees; 277 had between 300 and 999 employees; and 142 had over 1,000 employees). Of the 372, 324 were manufacturing companies and 408 were non-manufacturing; 144 were listed companies and 588 were privately held. A little less than half  (338) of the companies were located in the Kanto region, about 15% in the Kinki region, about 15% in the Chubu region, and the rest in other parts of Japan.

Companies surveyed all had employed foreign employees. One of the questions asked in the survey was: “Why did your foreign employee(s) quit the company?“. Multiple answers were ok. Here are the results:

  • To return to my home country, 47.9%
  • To move up in my career, 36.6%
  • Problem with appropriateness of work assigned, 23.0%
  • Lack of fit with Japanese corporate culture, 16.4%
  • Relations with co-workers, 14.5%
  • To get married, care for a family member, 13.9%
  • Salary, 12.9%
  • Difficulty communicating in Japanese, 12.3%
  • Problem related to working hours and paid vacation, 4.1%
  • Worried about the future of the company, 3.5%
  • Health reasons, 2.2%
  • Other, 2.2%

Because multiple answers were accepted, the main reason(“to return to my home country”)  given for leaving could overlap with any of the other responses. The second most frequently cited reason had to do with making a career change. Together, “lack of fit with Japanese corporate culture” and “difficulty communicating in Japanese” accounted for about 28%.

For comparison, let’s take a look at a public opinion poll conducted by The Harris Poll this year in the United States. of responses from 1,433 full-time employees at 310 workplaces. The main conclusion of the Harris survey was that people leave their work because of low pay, but the second most important was lack of career growth (cited by about a third of respondents). This percentage is similar to the DISCO survey, in which companies said that 37% of foreign workers left for an upward career move.

It’s interesting to note that “salary” was only cited by 12.9% of Japanese companies as a reason why their foreign employee(s) left.

What kind of company do you work for?

Whether you stay on at a job depends on a lot more than just how much you’re paid. When you’re looking for a job in Japan (as anywhere), it’s important to try to learn as much you can about the corporate culture and actual working style of your future manager and co-workers; and very importantly, whether you think you can grow there.

Here are some things to consider about the kind of company you might want to work for in Japan.

  • Large, medium or small-sized company?
  • Domestic or global company culture?
    • Although Japan as a whole is internationalizing, not all Japanese companies are doing so at the same pace, and some Japanese companies still very old school.
  • Are you the only foreigner? Are you the first foreigner to have ever worked there?
  • Your role and seniority level when you start.
  • Whether you have a chance to learn new skills and advance your career at the company.

Japanese corporate culture

We will cover Japanese corporate culture more in-depth in a another post, but here are the main issues to be aware of when you come to work at a more traditional Japanese company:

  1. Language – Can you communicate with your manager and co-workers in Japanese?
  2. In-direct communication style – Do you understand the sub-text of what is and isn’t being said?
  3. Long hours at work and need to put in face time
  4. Consensus decision making and focus on process
  5. Fear of failure – Can lead to conservative decision-making or no decision making at all
  6. Career path – Do you see yourself advancing at the company?
  7. Seniority trumps a lot of other things

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Lead photo via www.six-archi.jp