Looming layoffs: Which workers are at greatest risk?
“These days, the percentage of regular company staff members in their 40s who will still be with their company at the time they reach the age of retirement will be 10% among manufacturing companies, 20 to 30% among financial firms, and 40 to 50% among businesses in the service sector. Among most of the other categories, I suppose nearly all of them will be ‘restructured’ before then.”
Tomoyuki Suzuki, a hiring consultant, makes this dismal prediction in Spa! (Jan 22).
A panel of five commentators tell the magazine that the indications for long-term job stability are not good, and likely to get worse.
“Until fairly recently, restructuring adopted two types of patterns,” says Norifumi Mizogami, a business journalist. “Employers either invited workers to apply for early retirement, or to accept a transfer to a subsidiary. In the case of the latter, those who had been shipped out to subsidiaries have begun returning back to the parent companies—which means there aren’t even any posts open at the subsidiaries.
“As for early retirement, conditions have been becoming worse year by year,” he adds. “Ten years ago, workers who retired early could receive the equivalent of 48 months of salary. Now they’re lucky if they can get 12 months.”
Harutaka Konno, director at an NPO, notes that a number of techniques are typically applied to force out workers. For instance, there’s the tried-and-true use of “power harassment” to badger workers into resigning. Another method is to give staff members a choice between working under an annual contract or quitting, and then afterwards invoking the contract terms to get rid of them.
“In effect these are the same thing as restructuring,” he says.
Spa! identifies six types of staff who are seen as the most vulnerable to being restructured out of their jobs. They are:
- Members of the “skills-up tribe.” These are staff who do well on the TOEIC exam (700 points or higher) or who acquire certification in some skill. (“If your score stands out too much, the company might start wondering why you’re not more productive.)
- Those in departments that can easily be staffed by outsourcing. (“The time is coming when people who can only perform routine jobs will definitely be cut.”)
- “Ace” employees. As strange as this may seem, the practice of dismissing the most competent workers is not rare, particularly in cases where a company has changed owners and the new boss wants a complete “reset” to ensure he’ll have staff who are compliant.
- Business travelers. Being allowed to travel for the company is regarded as a privilege and attracts the envy of others. Some people make the mistake of posting photos about their business trips on Facebook, perhaps mentioning that they enjoyed some tasty local food. Work is not play—so this is asking for trouble.
- Workers around age 40. Also referred to as “dankai junior” (children of the baby boomers) who were born around 1970, they represent what may be the last large spike in Japan’s population, and their numbers mean greater competition for a smaller slice of the promotion pie. As economic growth slows, they are regarded as equivalent to “excessive bad debts” and therefore more likely to be eased out.
- “Ikumen.” These are family-oriented male workers who take advantage of the 2011 employment equality law to apply for extended leave, to spend time with their wives after giving birth. The figure last year reached an all-time high of 2.6% of workers. Because firing them violates the law, men who were so dismissed have successfully sued their employers; but nothing ends a career faster than beating one’s employer in court.
The Spa! panel also looked at moves toward restructuring broken down by business segment, and gave a favorable sunshine symbol only to construction companies and infrastructure-related firms for 2013. The outlook for retailing and distribution firms was cloudy; and manufacturing firms were partly cloudy. A forecast of cloudy followed by rain went to liability insurers; steady rain went to producers of consumable goods such as cosmetics; and the two worst sectors, with thunderstorms forecast, were companies in the pharmaceuticals and systems development sectors.