This past week, fresh-faced newcomers started working at companies throughout Japan. According to two articles in Nikkan Gendai (April 3 and 4), managers and supervisors need to understand that there are certain things that must absolutely be avoided to prevent new staff from starting off on the wrong foot.
One thing not to do right from the get-go is to entrust newcomers with answering the telephone without proper orientation and supervision. Sales companies, if they know their stuff, subscribe to the “10-second principle,” by which a phone must be answered after no more than three rings. To make a caller wait longer risks incurring their impatience.
“An experienced worker knows when picking up the phone and being requested to speak to a co-worker who’s not available, to say ‘I’m sorry, but Mr Sato is not here right now,’” says Chiyoko Yasushige, a director of a management consultancy service. “At the very least, courtesy demands informing the caller of the time he’s expected to return to the office and saying, ‘I’ll have him return your call.’”
But inexperienced workers tend to be imprecise about their comings and goings and need to be carefully watched.
“If you don’t know when they’re leaving for the day, that will be seen as your mistake,” says Yasushige.
Another thing to be avoided is to introduce a new arrival to a life insurance salesperson.
“Some bosses introduce their new subordinates to a female life insurance salesperson, which is possibly the worst thing they can do,” says insurance consultant Toru Atoda. “As long as they’re covered by regular health insurance, single people don’t need a life policy. Insurance isn’t a good investment. Instead, a boss ought to just advise a young worker to save up 1 million yen in cash.”
Nikkan Gendai also introduces several phrases that are to be avoided at all costs. The first is “Jibun de kangaero!” (Think on your own!). This is usually stated in response to the question “Do shitara ii desu ka?” (What should I do?).
Human resources consultant Keiko Ogata often hears youngsters during training sessions confide to her how browbeaten they felt by being told the above, or other expressions to the same effect like, “When I was young, there was nobody around to tell me what to do!.”
It’s important to keep in mind that members of Japan’s younger generation have a much stronger sense of equality than do their seniors. So signs of bias or favoritism—for example by fawning over the cutest girl in the group while disregarding the others—is one of the worst things a manager can do.
“Moreover,” adds Ogata, “youngsters tend to be less competitive than the older generation but have strong sense of pride, so they are likely to react negatively to personal criticisms unrelated to their work, such as how they prepare food or the way they grip their pens, and so on.”
In any event, being branded with a reputation for fawning over cute new female arrivals at the office is a surefire way to lose newcomers’ respect and tarnish one’s own career.
Or this: “Two years ago, when I joined the company, I was flabbergasted to see that my boss was a total loss at operating a personal computer,” recalls a woman employed by a trading house. “He’d always ask one of the older girls to come over to his desk and show him how to perform some function. And he didn’t seem to be able to remember how to do it, so he’d ask her the same thing again a week later.
“He was only in his late 40s, but completely hopeless when it came to using his computer.”
Such a cavalier admission of ignorance is simply not the sort of thing that a manager should expose himself to in front of new staff.
Other behavior by a boss likely to invite disparaging remarks by the ladies when they giggle and smirk while making tea would include, “He lets the nails on his pinkies grow long.” “He falls asleep with his mouth hanging open on the train.” “When I had my hair trimmed, he asked me if I’d broken off with a boyfriend.” “He reeks of alcohol from morning.” and “While he’s on the job he plays ‘air golf’ (i.e., takes imaginary swings of his golf club).”