When I left the Board of Education for a regular Japanese firm in October this year, many people asked me if the notorious overtime work Japanese salarymen are known to do is part of my daily routine. It wasn’t a surprising question for me because I would have had the same question if our roles were swapped.
A Taiwanese-American friend of mine who got a job in Nagoya told me his seniors reprimanded him on his first day of work when he arrived at office 15 minutes before official work time. Wha? I know, right? To them, as a new staff, he has to arrive before the seniors do, which is at least 30 to 45 minutes before official work time and he is not to leave the office before the seniors do too (even if he’s got nothing to do!), although that has come to improve with his stay at the company. He does overtime work on a daily basis till after 8pm and those are work not paid for. That’s what the title means. Sabisu Zangyou.
Another Japanese friend who works in Osaka had to report to office everyday during the Golden Week (3 consecutive public holidays in Japan) and they are not paid for as well. What makes things worse is that she doesn’t get off-in-lieu either. The worst thing is, she has tendered resignation multiple times and they’ve all been rejected. I know. Double-U.Tee.Eff.
Many friends on holiday in Japan have also spoke of seeing people at work past 10pm when they pass office buildings on the trains, but like everything else, nothing is true for the whole.
For example, a friend who also works in Nagoya with Japan Rail (JR) said that at the official time employees get off work everyday (I think it’s 6pm), all the lights in the office are automatically switched off so as to discourage overtime work. This system makes it easy for employees to stop work and leave for home. Working for JR has really great benefits especially in transportation but I shall skip that to avoid doing what I do best—digress.
Having heard the above stories and the ones I learnt from taking Business Japanese classes, I arrived at my office an hour before official work time on my first day of work and 40 minutes on my second day. After which, I was told by a management-level staff not to arrive at work so early because that would count into overtime work and I’d be paid for it, which the company wants to reduce. Great!
On my first 2 weeks at work, my seniors also frequently told me to go home as soon as the clock struck 6.30pm because there isn’t much work in the beginning. It all worked out perfect for me because I always try to finish work within office hours and avoid staying behind at the office. Ask anyone at my previous post-production company and you’ll know, not a single day have I done overtime work. Not even one.
Life is a little different now because of the nature of my job. I still return home at 6.30pm sharp almost everyday but sometimes when projects come in past 6pm and the deadline is the following workday, overtime work in unavoidable. Nevertheless, to the company, the most ideal situation is to arrive at work no more than 15 minutes before work time and leave as soon as you can.