Dentsu’s Action to Reduce Overtime Work: Is It Enough or Is It Just for Show?

One of Japan’s largest advertising agencies, Dentsu, has been in the spotlight again following yet another suicide of their employee who took her life after being unable to handle the long working hours and constant harassment from her superiors (see WSJ article here).

Advertising agencies have been known to have ridiculous working hours, what more in a nation like Japan. A friend in Singapore who used to work in the advertising industry as a graphic designer sometimes slept over at his office and continued work the next day without heading home. This is common in Japan in all industries, it appears.

Reading the article though, I was drawn to the line that says:

Dentsu said it would reduce the maximum overtime to 65 hours a month from 70 hours starting in November.

But if you go further down the article, you would notice this:

Records showed she logged more than 100 hours of overtime in the month leading up to her death…

My question is, if the lady clocked more than 100 hours of overtime when the limit was 70 hours, what’s the use in reducing it further to 65? Why erect a rule when it’s not being enforced? The only reason I can think of is “for show.” They just want to show the world they are doing something about it but don’t seem to really care. Instead of just reducing the maximum overtime hours, it is imperative to announce how the company plans to enforce it.

I used to work in this translation agency in Tokyo that had this “No Overtime Wednesdays” thing going on. So every Wednesday, someone would put up a sign at the door that reads “Today is no overtime work day!” And when I leave office at 10pm and see that sign on the door, I can’t help but sneer at it. What’s worse was when I left at 10pm, there were still others at the office burying their heads in their work. I’m the one who works the least amount of overtime in the company and I clocked a maximum of 60-80 hours once. Some of the other staff clock over twice that amount month after month. It made me realise, many of these are just for show even though the company makes us read their philosophy every morning about how they care for employees like family. Would you want your family member to work so late everyday?

The company later decided to automatically log staff out of the system at 8pm to reduce overtime work and whoever needs to work past 8pm, has to apply through their superior who would request for the system engineers to create exceptions for their accounts. It’s not a bad idea, but then some of the staff would apply for it practically every day and have it approved every day. What’s the point of the system then? One fine day, the interim CEO decided to create a rule for the sales team that says, all translation orders coming in after 5pm will be dealt with the following day meaning if clients want us to complete projects in 3 days, the 3 days will begin the following day.

Sounds pretty, right? But no. No client will say they need it in 3 days. They always say “I need it tomorrow” or “I need it the day after tomorrow.” So if you want to deal with it tomorrow, fine. You just have less time to work on it. The client doesn’t care as long as they get it when they need it. In the end, everyone deals with it immediately even if the order comes in after 7pm because of the ridiculous deadlines. When I gave feedback to the interim CEO on this issue, she told me “それはしょうがない (that can’t be helped).” It happened a number of times and that made me decide to leave the company. With a management who just creates rules that they don’t enforce, it’s not a company that can grow. This is the same CEO who frequently asked the software engineer to do certain technically impossible things and whenever the engineer replies, “それはできないです (that cannot be done),” she would always go, “できるかどうかは聞いてない、どうすればできるかを聞いてる (I’m not asking if that can be done; I’m asking how we can get it done).” And her response to our feedback is always a quick “that can’t be helped.” Great.

It’s good that the government is stepping in to do something about this. Otherwise, businesses will carry on doing their shit as usual.

Add a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *