Kelly and two other westerners working in Japan on the JET program had a dispute with their Japanese supervisor over sick leave. This report aims to analyze the decisions and issues in the case study from a personality and values perspective.
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The key decisions identified are in relation to recruitment, contract and training. The JET program did not require the ALT candidates to have any knowledge of Japanese. The salaries received by the JET participants were considered unfair by their Japanese colleagues. The contract received by the JET participants were ambiguous and imprecise. In addition, the Japanese employees in the host institution expected the foreigners to work like the Japanese rather than following the terms of their contract. The program provided pre-departure training for JET participants, but did not provide the same level of training for Japanese employees on how to work with foreigners.
Based on Hofstede’s Framework, it is found that the weaknesses of the decisions were mainly due to the differences in values of Japanese and western cultures. Japan is a society with high power distance, extremely high uncertainty avoidance, strong collectivism, strong masculinity and a long-term vision, whereas western societies have almost the opposite values. The seniority-based salary system, lifetime employment, the expectation to conform to social norms, dedication to work, loyalty to the employers and a male-dominated workplace are all features of the Japanese management system that the JET participants were unaware of.
It is recommended that the JET program reassess its recruitment policy to include Japanese as a compulsory requirement for candidates, and adjust the salary package to reflect the seniority-based culture. It is also recommended to draft a rigorous contract to avoid any ambiguity. In addition to making the pre-departure training compulsory, Japanese employees should receive the same level of cross-cultural training. Moreover, better Personality-Job fit and Person-Organization fit may be achieved if applicant’s personalities are taken into account in the recruitment process.
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Kelly, Mark, Andrea and Suzanne, all in their 20’s, were hired by the JET program to work in Japan. During their placement, there was a bitter dispute between them and Mr. Higashi, the supervisor of the foreign JET participants, over sick leave. This report aims to explore the critical decisions and issues in this case from a personality and values perspective. Firstly, the critical decisions regarding recruitment, contract and training will be analyzed. Secondly, there will be a discussion of the issues in national culture, values and personality. Finally, recommendations will be provided to facilitate future improvement.
2. CRITICAL DECISIONS
2.1 Key Decision 1 – Recruitment
The JET program made the decision of hiring native English speakers to assist in foreign language teaching in Japan. The positions of Coordinator for International Relations (CIR) and Assistant Language Teacher (ALT) both required the candidates to have a university degree and an interest in Japan. CIRs were required to have a functional knowledge of Japanese, but ALTs were not required to do so. The above recruitment decision recognized the importance of native-speakers in foreign language teaching and the educational background of the candidates, however, the lack of Japanese language requirement for ALTs was a fundamental flaw in the recruitment decision. This language barrier caused difficulty in communication between the Japanese employees and JET participants. In addition, Mr. Higashi had to act as an interpreter because he was the only person who could speak English.
Kelly, Mark, Andrea and Suzanne were young and inexperienced, yet they were paid the same salary as Japanese supervisors in the host institution. According to Adhikari (2005) and Hofstede (1993), Japan has a unique culture in which employees’ salaries are based on seniority rather than position. It is therefore unsurprising that the Japanese employees, all worked for more than 20 years in their career, felt uncomfortable about the salary of the JET participants. 2.2 Key Decision 2 – Contract
All the JET participants in the office had a standard North American contract which set out the working hours, number of vacation days and sick leave they were entitled to. However after Kelly, Mark and Suzanne fell ill, they were forced to use 2 paid vacation days rather than sick leave, which caused a serious tension between the JETs and Mr. Higashi.
The strength of the contract was that it stated a set of rules for the JET participants to follow, but the weakness was that it was not rigorously written. Shaules (2008) argues that western contracts are explicit and detailed, whereas Japanese contracts can be flexible and open to interpretation. This cultural difference is reflected in the contract received by the JET participants.
The definitions of “paid leave”, “paid holidays” and “special holidays” were ambiguous and they seemed to be used interchangeably within the contract. Section 1 of Article 11 says that the JET participants are entitled to 20 paid holidays, but Section 3 of Article 12 says that the special holidays (including sick leave) are paid holidays. Depending on the interpretation of “paid holidays” and “special holidays”, these two clauses either contradict with each other or repeat themselves.
Apart from the wording of the contract, the ability to honour the contract was also problematic. Although the JET participants acted within the terms of their contract, their Japanese colleagues still expected them to stay past 5pm on weekdays and work on Saturdays. The contract said that a doctor’s certificate was only required if the JET participants took three or more consecutive days of sick leave, but Mr. Higashi asked Kelly to bring in the note even though she only took 2 day’s sick leave. 2.3 Key Decision 3 – Training
The Conference of Local Authorities for International Relations (CLAIR) provided the JET participants with lots of information about working and living in Japan, and offered pre-departure training sessions about life in Japan and its potential problems.
The strength of the above decision was that it recognized the cultural differences of Japan and western countries and the challenges faced by those JET participants working in Japan. The weaknesses of the decision were that it did not make the pre-departure training sessions compulsory, and it did not offer similar training sessions for Japanese employees on the cultural differences and problems of working with westerners.
The consequences of the above weaknesses were that Kelly found herself in unfamiliar and difficult situations because she had no experience or knowledge of the Japanese workplace. Had she attended the training sessions, she would have been better prepared for the difficulties of working in another country. Similarly, due to poor knowledge and understanding, the Japanese colleagues disapproved the lack of commitment of the JET participants, and did not know how to deal with them in an effective and harmonious manner. If the Japanese employees had received training on working with westerners, they would have had a better working relationship with the JET participants.
3.1 National Cultures and Values
The weaknesses of the key decisions discussed in Section 2 mainly rooted from the differences in national cultures and values. Hofstede’s (1980, 1983, 1991, 1993, 2001) Framework for Assessing Cultures provides a theoretical ground for cross cultural management and research. The framework identified five value dimensions of national culture: power distance, uncertainty avoidance, individualism/collectivism, masculinity/femininity, and long/short-term orientation. The GLOBE Framework (House, et al., 2001; House, Javidan and Dorfman, 2002; Javidan, et al., 2005; Robbins and Judge, 2007) further extended Hofstede’s Framework to include assertiveness, in-group collectivism, performance orientation and humane orientation.
Because the JET participants in the case study came from Canada, Great Britain and United States, the western cultures and values discussed below will refer to these specific countries. According to Hofstede’s (2001) findings, Japan has a higher power distance than western cultures, although the difference is not significant. However, Japan ranked notably higher in uncertainty avoidance, collectivism, masculinity and long-term orientation. 3.1.1 Power Distance
Japan has a seniority-based promotion and reward management system and a highly hierarchical society in general (Adhikari, 2005; Oishi, et al. 2005; Shaules; 2008). This is mainly influenced by the Confucian values which emphasize hierarchy and harmony. Mr. Higashi acted more like a father than a manager, because in a traditional Confucian family, the father is the head and always at the top of the hierarchy. Unaware of these Japanese values, the JET participants constantly challenged the authority of their supervisors. As a result, the Japanese employees working at the senior level were annoyed that these inexperienced young foreigners were hired to tell them how to do their jobs. Moreover, paying a manager-level salary to these young foreigners were also against the Japanese norm of a seniority-based salary system. 3.1.2 Uncertainty Avoidance
Adhikari (2005), Brightman (2005) and Shaules (2008) all agree that Japanese culture expects everyone to conform to social norms and discourages individualism. This confirms the high uncertainty avoidance in Japanese society as claimed by Hofstede. Uncertainty avoidance was the reason why Mr. Higashi insisted to deal with the foreign JETS in the Japanese way. Because Mr. Higashi had lived all his life in Japan, the belief of conforming to social norms was deeply rooted in him. Shaules (2008) asserts that Japanese prefer to resolve conflicts in an indirect and mediated manner, whereas westerners tend to adopt a direct rule-based approach. This explains why the JET participants clearly referred to the contract and tried to resolve the sick leave issue with Mr. Higashi in a direct manner. On the other hand, even though Mr. Higashi was extremely agitated, he still chose to resolve the matter through the accountant rather than clarifying it there and then. 3.1.3 Collectivism
Various literature (Adhikari, 2005; Brightman, 2005; Javidan et al., 2005; Lucier et al., 1992; Oishi et al., 2005; Shaules, 2008; Wang et al., 2005) claims that Japan is a highly collective society, which means that the needs of a group are always viewed as more important than individual needs, and individuals are expected to sacrifice their own needs if there is a conflict between them. On the contrary, western societies tend to encourage individualism (Hofstede, 1991; Javidan et al., 2005). Scholars believe that the strong level of collectivism in Japan is due to the influence of Confucian values, which emphasize group orientation, relationships between individuals and showing respect (Fang, 2003, Wang et al., 2005; Yan, 2004). This explains why Japanese employees are so dedicated to their work and have great loyalty to their employers, whereas the JET participants prefer to use every single day of their holiday and fulfil their personal goals. 3.1.4 Masculinity
Japan ranked No.1 in masculinity in Hofstede’s (2001) findings. Women often leave their work to look after the family after getting married, therefore, very few women work at the senior management level in Japan (Adhikari, 2005; Kei et al., 2010). This was the reason why all senior Japanese employees in the JET program were men. This also explains why Mr. Higashi kept asking Kelly to sign up to flower arranging classes or tea ceremony, as these were traditionally considered women’s activities. 3.1.5 Long-term Orientation
Japan has a long-term oriented culture whereas western cultures tend to be short-term oriented (Lucier et al., 1992; Fang, 2003). One of the key characteristics of Japanese-style management is lifetime employment (Adhikari, 2005; Lucier et al., 1992). This was why the Japanese employees and supervisors all complained that the JET participants were never long enough to become part of the team, as they viewed the organization as a long-term family. On the other hand, Kelly had a short-term aim to make money, see the other part of the world and improve her Japanese. With this mismatch between the goals of the Japanese and western employees, neither of them could understand each other. 3.2 Personality
The Big Five Model identified five factors of personality: extroversion, agreeableness, conscientiousness, neuroticism and openness to experience (Robbins and Judge, 2007; Roccas et al., 2002). It was clear that the JET participants and the Japanese employees had very different personalities. For example, Mark is an introvert who prefers to work alone, whereas most Japanese employees tend to be extroverts who enjoy social gatherings after work. Mr. Higashi and other Japanese employees are highly conscientious whereas the JET participants are less so. The JET participants have lower emotional stability because they tend to get angry and distressed easily.
In order to increase employee job satisfaction and reduce turnover, Holland (1996) and Gardner et al. (2012) promote the theory of Personality-Job fit and Person-Organization fit. This means to fit an individual’s personality with the characteristics of the job and the organization. The JET program should learn from the issues identified in this report and aim to increase the Personality-Job fit and Person-Organization fit in its future recruitment process.
This report analyzed the critical decisions and issues in the case study from a personality and values perspective. The analysis was mainly based on Hofstede’s Framework, together with the Big Five Model, GLOBE Framework and Holland’s Person-Job Fit theory. It has been identified that the weaknesses of the decisions were mainly due to the lack of mutual understanding in culture and values. Different personalities also affected the harmony of the work relationship in this case. The next section will list the recommended actions in order to overcome the weaknesses identified in the analysis.
The JET program is advised to take the following actions:
1. to introduce Japanese language requirements for all JET participants; 2. to assess the applicants’ personality in order to increase Personality-Job fit and Person-Organization fit; 3. to revise the remuneration package of JET participants so that they receive less salary than the Japanese supervisors; 4. to appoint a lawyer experienced in employment contract to draft a detailed and rigorous contract; 5. to make pre-departure training and orientation a compulsory requirement for JET participants; 6. to provide cross-cultural training to Japanese employees; 7. to consider extending the maximum term of the JET participants’ contract or even consider offering permanent positions.
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