Do Japanese Corporate Employees Love Working Even More Than Americans?

Japan is legendary for its insane work schedules. Corporate employees in America are known to love to stay and work unpaid overtime, but in Japan it’s not unheard of for employees to keep inflatable beds around so they can sleep at the office. The Japanese language even has a word, karoshi, that means “death from overwork”.

The main difference between American’s long hours and the long hours worked by Japanese employees lies in the context.

Americans love being at the office because they hate their lives and hate spending time with their families and would rather be at work. Japanese, on the other hand, do so to show loyalty and spirit. Indeed, Japanese corporate employees have told me (off the record) that they feel bad about being absent for much of their children’s lives, but they cannot leave the office because no one else is leaving; it’s like a giant game of “Chicken” that everybody wins*. And staying at the office makes them look good in front of their boss.

It’s not that Japanese workers necessarily love working the way Americans do, it’s just that that’s how it’s done in Japan.

*or loses, depending on how you look at it.

You Offer a “Lucrative” Benefits Package? Really?

“Lucrative” is the most commonly heard word before you accept a job (contrast with “proactive” which is the most commonly heard word after you accept a job).

Every job posting I have ever seen has described its benefits package as “lucrative.” Sometimes it even says “lucrative salary,” too. And then during the initial interview, it’s as if HR wants to make absolutely sure you are aware of their “lucrative” package, so before actual compensation amounts are even discussed, the interviewer always mentions again how “lucrative” their offer is.

There wouldn’t even be anything wrong with that if every company didn’t describe its offer as “lucrative.” It’s blatant false advertising when you find out in the fourth round of interviews for a senior position requiring a minimum of 5-10 years experience that “lucrative” means $40k a year. Did I seriously just waste my last week studying up on your company so I could do well in your interviews?

It’s too bad there’s not some sort of National Job Offer Regulation Committee to tell us whose offers are actually “lucrative” and whose offers just suck. I propose that there should be three levels of compensation rankings: “Lucrative,” “Decent,” and “Don’t Bother.”

Screw Your Black Belt; I’m a Six Sigma Ninja

If there’s one thing corporate employees love more than working long hours, it’s giving stupid names to simple concepts.

There’s a really long explanation involving lots of math, but I will give you the short version: Six Sigma is a methodology designed to eliminate defects and improve efficiency. The name “Six Sigma” comes from being six levels of standard deviation away from the mean of a process on a normal distribution graph. Boring, right? Basically Six Sigma means you’re operating at 99.9997% efficiency.

Like many other things in the corporate world, Six Sigma is full of pseudo-words (things that would be acronyms if they actually spelled anything, but don’t), such as:

DMAIC (Define, Measure, Analyze, Improve, Control)

DMADV (Define, Measure, Analyze, Design, Verify)

But let’s be honest, that’s pretty typical.

Six Sigma proponents also like to throw around words they’ve borrowed from statistics, like axiomatic design, chi-square testing, homoscedasticity, regression analysis, and the taguchi method.

But the best thing about Six Sigma is its ranking structure. People involved in Six Sigma are given a karate rank, beginning with Green Belt, then becoming a Black Belt, and then, if they’re deemed worthy, they may go on to become a Master Black Belt! I think there’s also a title of Sensei in there somewhere. Hi-ya!

I’m not joking.

I can only imagine how this started. Some old businessmen sitting around in a conference room discussing models to improve efficiency, and one of them probably said “you know, this stuff is awfully dry and boring. How will we ever get our employees to learn all this crap and follow all these rules without them falling asleep?”

They probably pondered that question for weeks.

And then, at a followup meeting, one of them spoke forth: “I’ve got it! If we assign them karate ranks based on how much Six Sigma propaganda they’ve memorized, they will feel self-important and empowered!

And I bet you the reply was “that’s the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard in my life!”

And then I bet you after a few moments of contemplation, he added: “It’s definiately going to work.”

He was right.

How to Improve Your SWE

SWE is yet another corporate acronym that stands for “Satisfying Work Experience.” Your manager can’t just ask you “how do you like your job?” Instead, they have to ask you “How is your SWE?” (pronounced like “swee,” as if it were actually a real word).

At my first job, we had all been working ridiculous hours and weekends (as per usual), and one of the managers took a few members of my team into a conference room and asks us:

“You guys have all been working really hard. What can I do to improve your SWE?”

At this point, my friend and coworker looks at the manager and asks, “can I leave at 5 today and not work this weekend?”

For a moment, we all had a brief glimmer of hope. And then our manager replied:

“No, but since everybody is so stressed out, you guys can all wear funny hats tomorrow!” And she seemed so proud of herself for coming up with such a brilliant and clever idea.

Upon hearing that response, my friend got up and left. She walked right out of the conference room without saying a word. I don’t know where she went. I don’t even think I saw her for the rest of that week, and she certainly didn’t come in and work that weekend. I remember she was back the following Monday, however, but no one ever spoke of the incident again.

My friend is awesome, and helped inspire me to not put up with bullshit at work. I hope this article inspires you in the same way.

How to Get a Good Performance Review in the Corporate World

I want you to get rid of the idea that you have to work hard in order to get a good review. I have gotten my worst reviews ever when I was busting ass, working 12+ hour days, fixing code that no one else understood, turning in projects and closing out tasks left and right, making a ton of progress. And conversely, I have gotten my best reviews when I was hardly doing anything at all! In fact, at one job, I had only been there for 3 months and I literally hadn’t done anything yet, and my manager pulled me aside and gave me a glowing review, a large raise, and told me I was doing a fantastic job!

Getting a good review is not about getting work done; it’s about giving off the perception that you’re getting work done. The genius programmer who writes and maintains the software that functions as the backbone for the entire company, and as such spends nearly all his time at his desk working, will get bad reviews, no raises, and be threatened with “performance plans” and other such forms of intimidation. Meanwhile, the slacker who doesn’t do much work but goes around high-fiving everyone and plays grab-ass with all his buddies at happy hour will get brilliant reviews, raises, and promotions.

Here is a short guide I have put together for you to help you get the best reviews possible:

1. Spend a lot of time at other people’s desks. This lets everyone, including management, know that you are a “people person,” a good “team player,” and that people like you. It also gives the impression that you are working with other team members on important issues. It is very important, however, that you never smile or laugh while at a coworker’s desk. If people see you smiling or laughing, they will assume you are goofing off rather than being a good employee. Now, you might think, “but how can I get my own work done if I am spending time at other people’s desks?” And you would be correct; you can’t. But remember, it’s not about getting work done. It’s about looking like you’re getting work done. The astute reader might also wonder, “if I’m spending time at other people’s desks, won’t I also be preventing them from getting their work done?” And again, the answer is “yes.” But not to worry, because chances are that person doesn’t mind staying late, anyway.

2. Ask a lot of questions in meetings. Nothing says “I’m involved” like asking questions in meetings. Even if you already understand everything, ask questions anyway. If you can’t think of any relevant questions, ask a completely unrelated question. Your manager will think you are a great employee for being so involved and looking at the big picture. It is important that after you ask the question, to have a stumped and/or concerned expression on your face. It is imperative that you don’t smirk or giggle. I recommend practicing asking stupid questions with a straight face at home so your performance is flawless when you do it for real during meetings.

3. Go to happy hour. Nothing shows company and team loyalty like consciously choosing to spend your free time with your team. Laugh with them. Cry with them. Your managers will see what an amazing employee you are and give you the raise you deserve!

You may have noticed that none of those involved doing any work. Leave the work for the hard working desk jockeys who are going to get bad reviews, anyway. Besides, it’s hard for you to get actual work done when you’re so busy working on your perception of being a good employee.

No, I Don’t Want to Go to Happy Hour

I have my own stuff to do. I have to go to the gym. I have to make dinner. I have to go to the grocery store. I have to take a look at my portfolio’s performance. I have to do dishes. I have to catch up on my reading. I have to balance my checkbook. I have to check my email. I have to surf the net. I have to play guitar. I have to watch TV. I have to relax. I have to go to bed.

I don’t want to listen to you complain about your job. I don’t want to listen to you complain about your spouse. I don’t want to listen to you complain about your financial troubles. I don’t want to listen to you complain about your body. I don’t want to listen to complain about sports.

I have my own stuff to do. After work is my time. Don’t get me wrong; normally I would love to go out after work and delay all the things I have to do just so I can spend some more time with my awesome team as we sit around buying overpriced beer and appetizers and watch everyone put on their happy face as they complain about their job, their spouses, their financial troubles, and their bodies. No really, that stuff is very interesting to me. I think it’s awesome that you used to be able to bench 500lbs in college when you were the all-star quarterback yet now you have trouble walking up a flight of stairs. It’s also enthralling to hear you talk about how you’re upside down on your car loan and your spouse is talking about leaving you because you’re never home anymore since you work 80 hour weeks. I empathize with you. Really. And if I didn’t have my own life to live, I might even want to buy you a beer to comfort you.

And to my managers: this doesn’t mean I’m not a team player; it just means my work day ends when I leave the office. Sorry!

Don’t Lie; This Meeting Isn’t Going to End On Time, Either

Have you ever been to a meeting that ended on time? I haven’t (not including meetings that I run). I should note that if you ever have the privilege of being in a meeting that I am holding, you will be kicked out when the meeting is scheduled to end, if not earlier, because being forced to stay in a meeting that is going longer than expected is the most annoying thing in the world.

It wouldn’t be so bad if you weren’t already overworked, but when you are already going to have to stay late, you don’t need to waste another hour listening to people pretend to be engaged in a two-hour meeting that was only supposed to last 15 minutes in the first place!

The reasons meetings run late are almost always the same:

First, no one can stay on topic. Say your meeting was scheduled in order to discuss streamlined, mission-critical releveraging protocol designed to drive quality-assured excellence. As soon as someone makes reference to something, anything else, the meeting will derail into a 30 minute discussion between two people that will invariably end with one of the parties saying “oh, well let’s discuss this offline.”

Second, if you’re unlucky enough to have any corporate cheerleaders in your meeting, you will have to listen to them argue back and forth about which one of them loves the company more. Each one will continually try to one-up the other by trying to get the last question in. Remember that in the corporate world, you show interest and loyalty to your company by asking questions in meetings. Corporate cheerleaders love their company so much that they can’t stop asking questions during meetings. It doesn’t matter to them if the meeting was scheduled to be over at 3pm, and now it’s 4:45pm; they will keep asking questions.

Finally, most people don’t seem to care. They don’t mind staying an extra hour past the (unpaid) overtime they were already planning on putting in that day because a meeting went long. You can easily identify these people during the meeting because they are the ones that don’t look more and more pissed off with every tick of the second hand on the clock past the meeting’s scheduled end time. They are the ones who smile when someone asks a question when the meeting was supposed to be over 30 minutes ago. They are the ones who enjoy staying late, and therefore don’t care if meetings last forever.

Here is my list of guidelines for making sure your meetings do not take longer than they are supposed to:

– If the meeting covers more than 2 subjects, print out outlines for everyone. You can use these outlines to keep people on subject.

– Immediately shut down any side discussions that are unrelated to your meeting topic. Do not wait 30 minutes for one of the people involved to say “let’s take this offline.” Instead, after 10 seconds of listening to their banter, say “I think you two need to take this discussion offline” and immediately go onto the next point in your outline.

– Immediately shut down unrelated questions. They’re not related, and therefore have no purpose being discussed in your meeting. As soon as the corporate cheerleader asks, before another one can reply, you must reply with “you know, that’s a good question, but it’s outside the context of this meeting. So as I was saying…” and then continue. It might be a little rude, but which is more important: being polite, or leaving work on time?

– When the time is 1 minute before your scheduled end time, say “alright, it looks like we’re out of time…”. At this point, you have 3 options. 1) If the meeting is over, then you’re done. 2) if for whatever reason you didn’t get through everything on your agenda, then continue with “…I will send you another invite so we can continue this later” and then end the meeting. 3) if the meeting absolutely must keep going, then continue with “…anyone who has to leave can leave, because I don’t want to keep you from getting your work done while you stay here in this annoying meeting contemplating boredom-induced suicide.”

Again, which is more important: being polite, or leaving work on time?

I rest my case.

Your Company Sucks if it Doesn’t Allow You to Take Sick Days

I was talking to someone the other day who told me that her company doesn’t allow you to use sick days. If you call in sick, it is an unexcused absense, you get written up, and it goes on your record.

That means if you are in the hospital with food poisoning, or if you get in a car accident and are in the operating room having surgery to save your life, or at the orthodontist having your teeth pulled, you are going to be penalized by your employer.

She then went on to say that employees were given PTO (paid time off, also known as “vacation time”), but it has to be scheduled 2 weeks in advance. Now that’s a pretty standard corporate policy, but if she gets sick it doesn’t come out of her PTO bank, but instead she gets a mark against her for her review. Apparently you are supposed to plan when you will get sick and let your managers know at least two weeks in advance.

The last corporate job I held had a similar policy. Non-management employees were not allowed to call in sick (I was in management so it didn’t apply to me, but even if I wasn’t I still would have called in sick rather than follow that bullshit policy). If you were sick, you were expected to come to work sick, and if your manager felt you were sick enough, he or she could send you home. I wasn’t aware that middle-level corporate managers were medical doctors capable of making such diagnoses.

If you have the reasoning abilities of an 8 year old you can see the problem with that. People get the flu and they’re supposed to come to work? Not only is that a horrible heatlh policy (for the sake of other employees), but it’s a poor health policy for the person who has to ride the train or drive or bike an hour while sick to get to work for fear of being written up if they don’t. Needless to say, people there were always sick, and the paramedics showed up at my job more than once because someone with the flu or mono or whatever had to come to work despite having a fever of 104, wasn’t allowed to go home, and passed out as a result.

When I got laid off from that job I was so happy that I didn’t have to work in that disease pit anymore. And this was from a relatively cushy, well-paying, low-stress job that I enjoyed and at which I was very good. Well, the work was relatively stress free, but avoiding all the sick people was high stress.

Free Lunch? Or Chained to Your Desk?

If you are in the job market, be extremely careful if a recruiter or member of HR tries to promote “free lunch” as part of a company’s benefits package. This is a warning sign that you may be about to sign on with a workhorse.

It sounds wonderful at first! “Oh!” you think, “how cool! I won’t have to bring a lunch and/or go out to lunch every day, which will be hugely convenient, and I won’t have to spend money on lunch, which means I’ll have more spending money to waste on frivolous, depreciating liabilities!”

But what you may be missing is that offering catered lunches is a great way for a company to keep you in the building. When things get busy (and they will), you will be expected to eat lunch at your desk. The company may even offer catered dinner in the evenings, which is often a sign that your company expects that you will frequently be at the office late into the evening. It’s much more economically feasible for a company to spend $10 per person per day on a meal than to pay them an extra $20, 30, 40, or even 50 per hour of overtime that they work.

In the interest of fairness, I do know of one person who works for a company that offers catered lunches and does not expect ridiculous overtime. There are probably a few more. However, most companies that offer free lunch, such as the first one for which I worked, will expect you to be in the office for much longer than eight hours a day.

As with all things in life, do your due diligence. Don’t accept a position with a company based solely on one apparent benefit.