Politeness and Overtime

There is a false sense of politeness in Japan, and there is a problem of unproductive overtimes. How are these even related? Read on and see.

When confronted with something they do not understand, people in Japan will usually nod and smile as if they understood.

This is what they consider to be “polite”.

This is what I consider to be “ignorance”.

Part of it is due to pride, and I can say this for almost all eastern Asian countries, people are worried about losing face. Pride is placed at a much higher emphasis in the orients than it is in the Western countries. A very good example is martyrdom. Martyrdom is considered heroic and worthy of pursuit in the Orients, especially for army trainings, usually along the lines of “we will fight to the last man, never surrender!” On the flip side, in Western army trainings, the first lesson is usually about survival, and the instruction “your life is important, surrender when you are outnumbered”.

I can see arguments for both sides.

Another reason has nothing to do with pride and everything to do with convenience. It is convenient to nod and smile, pretending you understood an instruction, and go back to whatever you were doing. It is convenient to have someone stop talking to you in ways that are difficult for you to understand. It is convenient to be lazy.

I think I am also picking up this deplorable habit.

What is convenient for a couple of minutes, perhaps a couple of days, will eventually come back and bite you in the ass, hard. It is like chasing away a rabid dog inside a confined space without putting it down, it will come back and bite you sooner or later. Delaying a problem will not fix it, but it seems many people in Japan do not understand this concept. It’s as if a problem is delayed, it will fix itself.

While I admire the work ethics of the Japanese people, I do not admire their efficiency. Work that could be completed in 1 hour in Canada would take a Japanese person 1.5 – 2 hours. Despite having the same qualifications and intelligence, Japanese employees will try to “drag it out”. This is one of the things that leads to the phenomenon I described above. Procrastination leads to laziness, but pride necessitates that the lazy employee must save face, hence the “nod and smile” routine. Another way to look at it is that the employee must save face, therefore even if a problem would’ve been easier to solve if the said employee asked for clarification and help, he/she would instead opt to trying to work it out themselves, spending unnecessary time and resources trying to reinvent the wheel.

Personally I find this to be a very big problem in many Asian societies. Despite the claim of high efficiency and high productivity, the fact is much of the overtime claimed by workers are actually not necessary.

Perhaps one day Japan would realize this, and perhaps one day the future generation would learn that overtime does not equal to hard work. When that day comes, the work stress level in the Japanese society will drop, and people might then finally start spending more time outside of work with their friends and families