Post office employees have to sell (or buy if unable to) quota of 'nengajo'

TOKYO —

A man walks into a “kinken shop” – a discount ticket, coupon and card outlet – carrying a large bag. “Would you care to buy some New Year’s cards?”

The clerk nods. “Forty-three yen each?”

“That’ll do.”

“All right. We’ll take 1,000.”

From his bag, the man (let’s call him Mr Mori) draws five bundles of 200 cards each and receives 43,000 yen. He leaves with a sigh of relief. He’s just lost 7,000 yen but it could have been worse.

If anything seems bland enough not to cause misery, traditional “nengajo” (New Year’s postcards) ought to qualify. Their message is simple and friendly: Happy New Year. It’s that time of year again, and people are buying them by the tens and hundreds – not in such bulk as used to be the case, greetings like everything else having gone from postal to cyber, but still – tradition is tradition, and this one holds.

All the same, when you trek to your neighborhood post office to buy or send this year’s batch of “nengajo,” you might want to consider this: Postal employees, says Shukan Josei (Jan 1), have quotas. Each is expected sell a minimum number of “nengajo.” Thousands of them. If they don’t, they must buy them themselves – or else risk a poor job rating and possibly be denied promotion.

That’s what brought Mori with his bag to the shop in Tokyo’s Kanda district. He is a part-time post office employee. For part-timers, the usual quota is between 3,000 and 5,000 cards. For full-time employees, it’s likely to be 10,000. The going post office price is 50 yen per card – 50,000 yen for 1,000. Mori swallowed the 7,000-yen loss, and will probably do so once or twice more before he’s done.

“I’ll tell them at the office I sold them to relatives,” he tells Shukan Josei.

Since when have postal employees been saddled with these quotas?

Since around 2003, the magazine finds. Two factors were involved – falling sales due to the Internet, and the looming privatization of the then-public postal system.

“Post office managers wanted to show that privatization was not necessary,” explains postal union official Noriaki Shimomi. “They wanted to say, ‘Look, our sales are going up, we don’t need privatization.’”

It didn’t work, and privatization went ahead, leaving the quota system intact. Each branch imposes its own numbers, but it’s pretty well universal across the nation’s 1111 post offices.

Staffing those offices are some 260,000 employees. Sixty percent of them are part-time. Most of them, Mori included, want to be full-time, naturally. Part-timers do the same work as full-timers for less than half the pay and negligible bonuses. Nor are full-timers content with their present lot – they want promotions and raises. The pre-condition: Meet the quotas.

To an outsider the post office looks like a pretty comfortable place. But even here, beneath the calm surface the competition is cutthroat.

Shukan Josei leaves Mori on his way to the next kinken shop. He still has 2,000 cards to sell.

  • 22

    zichi

    This is true because a friend's son works at the PO and so to help him we bought our New Year cards from him. Its a practice which should be made illegal.

  • 12

    wanderlust

    Just like Fujitsu, Panasonic, and other Japanese companies; making the employees and their friends and families buy their own unwanted products...

  • 8

    Ekkusaito

    A friend of mine sells cosmetics and has to buy them to make up her quota. Even if she meets her quota but the total company sales are below expectations, she still has to buy from her company to make up for it. It's disgraceful.

  • 8

    Knox Harrington

    This is what keeps Japan going. Part-timers (and full-timers too) everywhere, unable to speak up or demand fair working conditions. Japanese staff are their own worst enemy since nobody ever dares questioning idiotic practices. This is clearly one of them. Is it even legal? Guess we'll never find out since we wouldn't want to rock the boat around here. And so it continues... People like this, believeing that if they use their own cash to help out their company, they will somehow, magically be promoted or bumped up to full-timers are a tragedy, indeed.

    Japan might be considered to have high standard of living to those looking at it from outside. We have the stuff, the brands, the whateverthehellyoucanbuyfor money but when I read things like this, I am again reminded of how this country's "success" is based on people like Mori who get nada for all they put in. Despicable.

  • 7

    TokyoGas

    Making staff pay for these cards is such bull.

  • 7

    Fumie Yuhi

    Actually, my husband works at post office. Yes, the story of Mr. Mori is true. My hubby is a regular worker and his quota is 8000 post cards. No matter how we struggle to sell our relatives, friends, neighbors and my co-workers to ask to buy them, he can’t meet his quota. So he ended up buy some of them by himself to meet his quota. And not only Nengajyo, employees have to sell Kamomail(mid-summer greeting cards), various kinds of goods all year round or if he/she can’t do that they have to buy themselves. We just had 3rd box of mandarin oranges this month. If post office expects employees to sell or buy so many unwanted products, they should raise their salaries. Apparently, these cost to cover the quota is a huge burden for us. We have to send our son to a private college.

  • 6

    KiwiJP

    Actually I used to work for JPost more than ten years ago. Even at that time, we all were in commission, not only postcards, but almost everything they provide. Stamps, local percel gifts, life insurance, term deposits, and accounts for donations... I even oppened accounts for all my relatives. I recall how pathetic enviroments I was in....

  • 5

    Frungy

    Who has 150 to 500 friends (assuming each one of them buys 20 cards)? This is clearly "work", and should be compensated at the standard working hours rates.

  • 5

    cleo

    Wow, so that's why the postlady was all but licking my slippered feet when she brought the batch of cards I'd ordered from her. She even gave me a 'thank-you' of a couple of bath cubes.

    Commission I can understand, but the negative 'sell 'em or else' approach is wrong.

  • 4

    ebisen

    Yeah, you don't want to work for Japan Post - this company should have been shot out of it's misery a looooong time ago. Koizumi was right in every single little point he made about them. This goes beyond being rationsl, who the hell has 10.000 relative to sell these cards to?

  • 4

    megosaa

    time to boycott or form a union!

  • 4

    badsey3

    Help out the PostMan and buy their 50Yen cards. Use those to write personal thank-you's to everyone you know. Everyone must do their part to make this Christmas Season the best ever.

    Japan Post or the previous Postal Services Agency is what kept Japan afloat during the "Zombie Bank" years. When people could not trust if their bank might fail while the Postal bank would not (Postal Bank didn't do loans). Some say the largest bank in the World -and should be if you only look at deposit holdings. A bank built on the backs of the Japanese people unlike the highly leveraged banks of today. People that worked for this bank should have had a retirement paved in gold. http://www.economy.com/dismal/article_free.asp?cid=110621

  • 4

    blendover

    To the eyes of a westerner, it seems pretty low grade for the staff of a large and infrastructural service provider to be forced to engage in Amway style network marketing. However, this kind of practice is quite firmly ingrained in Japanese culture, having been built up during the days when company loyalty meant a great deal and was also well rewarded. It's sad to see it still in operation now, though, when the only reward for success is being less likely than the next person on the employment pyramid to lose your job.

  • 4

    Yubaru

    Folks this is something that many workers in various industries here face. At least with JP it's only a couple of times a year. My wife used to work at a clothing boutique and she HAD to sell a certain amount each MONTH and if she did not make her quota she ended up having to purchase the clothing herself or face getting fired.

    Needless to say she did not stay in the job long, even though she was hired as a FULL-TIME employee and not a contract or pt'er.

  • 3

    gaijinfo

    Once again, Japan Inc. FAILS at basic business. You want more sales? Put people on commission. Not complicated. The people best at sales will gravitate to businesses that have the best products. But then again, this is government. Those leaches will do anything to keep their grip on power.

  • 3

    smithinjapan

    Nothing like negative reinforcement! They should be doing it on a commission basis if a certain number is reached, not a penalty policy when it is not. I'm not sending any this year.

  • 3

    Knox Harrington

    You have never worked a day in Japan.

    Of course I have, Cos. Have you?

    If your experiences are indeed true, you seem to have put yourself on the really shitty side of the Japanese job market. Why would they demand you "buy stuff"? Or make you saabisu zangyo? And why would you put up with that?You would do better working for decent companies.

    And as I said in my previous post, it is when people are afraid to speak up when they do themselves a disservice. Saabisu zangyo has no place in a healthy society and should be done away with ASAP. But, people keep at it 'cause they are afraid of losing their place of employment. Well, guess what? Even in Japan you van sometimes benefit from believeing in yourself and speak up when things are wrong.

    I used to see nengajo as a nice (albeit time consuming) tradition. Apparently it's not.

  • 3

    Americanhonor

    This should be made illegal, department stores also force employees to buy a certain amount of product from the store each year and this amounts to power harassment and abuse of employees rights. Here is yoursalary ( low) by the way if you dont buy our products x amount each year you will be looked over for promotion and may end up fired for poor performance? such is the life of ypur average emoyer in Japan.

  • 3

    tmarie

    GEOS used to do this with all of their teachers with regards to quotes. I think they didn't push it so much with the foreign staff but I found it "funny" that nearly all the Japanese staff had books and whatnot from the company. If you didn't make your "quotas" you got told off by your manager. Until the workers tell their bosses to shove it, this will continue. I don't really feel sorry for them to be honest because when/if they get into top positions, they'll turn around and do the exact same thing to the younger workers. Another example of power harassment and kohai/sempai not working.

  • 3

    Cos

    If your experiences are indeed true,

    There are stats about not my experiences but those of the whole mass of Japanese employees, part or permanent, and how many have to do saabisu zangyou or have to not take their paid holidays. That's the rule more than the exception. For being encouraged to buy stuff, as you can read in comments. And you know amakudari, and how staff of the smaller company are asked to get pay cut in order to feed the cuckoo in the nest. Another classic is when your company proposes, very firmly, that you rent housing (in their buildings), buy your meals, insurances (it's even the law), trips (lovely holidays with your beloved coworkers), borrow money (if you buy the house they sell you), or what's not, as either it's a side business of theirs, or they have some kind of informal relation with a company providing those services/goods and get some %age of sales back. Like working, living and dying in Toyota, the company owns the town, people included. Or, when they propose you, very firmly, to buy stocks, like stock option, but 100% on your money. Or they propose you, very firmly, to pay yourself for studies on your free time, so they won't pay your retraining for skills they will use. I give a prize of originality (I mean that I had not seen in Europe or America) for the companies that propose you, firmly of course, to give your own money to charities and your own time for volunteer activity (like a matsuri group, training many week-ends, paying for your music instruments, the costumes and the fans with the company logo...) and you have to pretend it's the company doing the sponsorship of the event while they don't give one yen for it. I don't think that started in the 1990's, but surely it's getting harder for employees to refuse as they can't afford losing their job, and also, in the good year, people were paid well for their effort.

  • 2

    Serrano

    Do they still sell New Year's cards? I thought everyone e-mailed their cards these days...

    No, actually I know many people still send the traditional cards in the regular mail, but I didn't know about this ridiculous quota for postal employees.

  • 2

    Ranger_Miffy2

    Very sad. I just mailed off my 40 nengajyo, but had no idea of the quota system. And I thought GEOS was bad...this is not merry news at all.

  • 2

    Cos

    People like this, believeing that if they use their own cash to help out their company, they will somehow, magically be promoted or bumped up to full-timers are a tragedy, indeed.

    You have never worked a day in Japan. Most companies I have worked for had that type of scheme, if that was not to make you buy stuff, that would be to make you work more hours for free till you fill some quota. Ask around you who made sabisu zangyo. And you have the choice to accept or look for the next job... where you will get something similar. For us foreigners, even better as they can blackmail us about visas.

    Is it even legal?

    It's borderline. Hallo Work can't help you on this one and you can't sue anyone until they steal you millions of yen, because even if you win, the lowest possible legal cost is over a million yen.

  • 2

    sillygirl

    and the bullying follows you all into the workplace.

  • 1

    forzaducati

    Sad. Well, I am not surprised. I am surprised though, that in this day and age anybody would put up with such childish nonsense. Once, on my evening stroll I got passed several times by the same JP delivery bike. I noticed it was the fellow delivering to my place, so I put up my hand and he stopped. I said you look busy. He said no, I finished an hour ago but can't return before half past 8. Go figure.

  • 1

    Americanhonor

    Your average employee in japan.

  • 1

    Alphaape

    Privatisation is the cause of this problem. Look what privatisation has done to the American postal service. Service is horrid and employees are surly.

    I hope you are being sarcastic. The US Postal system is not private, and as a result it is bankrupt. It owes about $5 billion in pension payments to the government to cover the postal workers. Service is slow, and if you compare the USPS to FedEx or UPS you would see what privatization really looks like.

    I find it amazing that the people have put up with this for so long. Equally amazting is the fact that some managers who may have started out working the floor and had to put up with this wouldn't want to change things when they got into positions of leadership, and all they do is the same thing. I have said it before and I will keep saying it, Japan may be high tech, but it is "moving slow in the fast lane" in regards to many things.

  • 1

    iceshoecream

    Japan may be high tech, but it is "moving slow in the fast lane" in regards to many things.

    Well, Japan is actually super low tech.

  • 0

    blendover

    @Dog

    Well, I'm no historical expert, but from what I have been told there was quite a lot of network marketing going on before the 90s, especially in rural areas, going back to shortly after the war . You are probably right that in the 90s companies that had prevously limited themselves to obliging thier employees to fill their own houses with company products and the products of related companies and obliging their wives to encourage their friends and neighbours to do the same, started to formalise this into a quota system.

  • 0

    iceshoecream

    My ex was a manager for GEOS and this was her deal: Find at least 50 new students every month and we'll give a bonus to the teachers (thing I don't understand coz she, the manager, was the one finding them). Find less than 50 new students and we (GEOS) will take the money that didn't come from those new students out of your salary. When she quit they were all saying what a loser she was (including her "friends").

  • -1

    hellmaster

    didn't know working in JP post office required to be a saleperson

  • -1

    Yogi Zuna

    Just to clarify, the United States Postal Service is in fact used by FedEx and UPS to make deliveries, so you have private companies relying on the postal service. Privatization is not a magical "cure-all" that will solve everything under the sun, and creates problems of it's own.

  • -2

    cramp

    lol this is funny...come on

  • -3

    Ash Edwards

    Something just clicked. Once I (a gaijin) went to my local post office and asked for what I can only call a " special international transaction." I was told it could not be done. I insisted it could as I had asked for and received it several times before. He then turned to his colleague who backed him up. I persisted. The employee gave me a baleful look as he pulled out his binder of procedures. Having seen that same binder before I told the postal employee where he could find the instructions. The tension increased but I left the PO victorious. Now I see the poor many was under pressure to sell nengajo and who knows what else and not assist lowly gaijin.

  • -3

    warnerbro

    Privatisation is the cause of this problem. Look what privatisation has done to the American postal service. Service is horrid and employees are surly. In the 1960s and 70s, when I lived there, they would still pick up letters and packages from you at your door or you could leave them in your post box. We would tape coins to the letters if we didn't have a postage stamp. Try doing that now that the miracle of privatisation has been inflicted on them. Costs to the consumer have risen and service has declined. That's what the profit motive gives us.

  • -9

    some14some

    a small one-time loss (?) should be overlooked considering present employment situation in Japan. i should be more sensitive?

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