Slacker "Ojisan" culture in Japanese companies

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Western observers of Japanese society generally believe that sararīman サラリーマン ("salaryman") have a super strong work ethic.  According to a survey of Japanese employees in their twenties and thirties conducted by the management consulting company Shikigaku, however, 49.2% said that there was a hatarakanai ojisan (middle-aged man who does no work) at their company.

"Survey in Japan Finds Half of Companies Have Morale-Draining Slacker 'Ojisan'", (6/13/22)

The article has colorful charts listing responses to four main questions.  Here I omit the charts, while rearranging and summarizing some of the findings.

Respondents who had a slacker ojisan at their company were asked how he spends his time. The most common answers were “takes a lot of breaks” (49.7%) and “sits doing nothing” (47.7%), along with “makes idle chat” and “surfs the net.”  [Other answers, in order of decreasing importance, were "works on his own private business or interests", "sleeps", and "reads newspapers and magazines".]

Among the suggested reasons for why these men had given up working, 45.0% thought it was because they had “no motivation to work,” 41.0% answered it was because their “seniority is based on length of employment,” and 26.3% stated they “can’t be given work responsibilities.”  [Other answers, in order of decreasing importance, were "no goals", even if they produce results, they aren't evaluated", "nobody to evaluate them", "lack of physical fitness or willpower", "colleagues refrain from asking them to do work", and "don't know".]

At 59.7%, the most significant negative effect of having such workers in the company was “decreased morale.” So while 49.0% of younger employees answered that they “have to do the work that hasn’t been done,” a greater number felt that losing the enthusiasm to work was worse.  [Other answers, in order of decreasing importance, were "waste of labor costs", they drag others into idle chat", "no rise in colleagues' wages and positions", "no bad effect".]

When respondents were asked if they thought they might become a slacker in the future, 30.3% said yes and 59.3% of those thought the most likely reason would be their work achievements not being reflected in their salary. A further 37.4% said it would be because they did not have a good boss.  [Other answers, in order of decreasing importance, were "surrounded by slackers", "no assessment that results in reduction in salary", "no personnel evaluation system".]

Shikigaku concluded that the way to avoid employees transforming into slackers was to set salaries based on evaluation of achievements. That would create clear motivation to work in order to gain a higher salary.

The survey also found that 47.3% of companies that had slacker ojisan also had slacker obasan (middle-aged women) who similarly spend their time making idle chat and taking a lot of breaks, which makes younger employees feel discouraged about doing their work.

The reassuring part of all this is that the younger generation is asking for more stringent supervision and assessment.  So perhaps the Japanese office workforce gung ho* spirit has not been lost after all.

[*A Mandarin loan word in English]


Selected readings

[Thanks to Don Keyser]


  1. Peter Grubtal said,

    June 13, 2022 @ 11:31 am

    But is this is a new phenomenon? Years ago there were the window gazers: 窓際族.
    And I suspect these people may in some cases be mobbing victims: deliberately left out of useful work, so that the others have someone they can point the finger at.

  2. jin defang said,

    June 13, 2022 @ 1:14 pm

    I'll bet you could get exactly the same reaction from junior faculty at most universities, and attributing it to the same factors —work not reflected in salary increases and the like.

    We all thought so when we were junior faculty, and doubtless many junior faculty in our department feel just that way about us'ns now.

  3. JPL said,

    June 16, 2022 @ 12:30 am

    Something that struck me as odd in the account in the article was that as expressed it seemed to give the impression that each company has one slacker ojisan, that the phenomenon manifests as just a single bloke whose role in that company is to take a different view of what he is to do with his time. E.g., "49.2% said that there was a hatarakanai ojisan (middle aged man who does no work) at their company." and "Respondents who had a slacker ojisan at their company were asked how he spends his time.", as well as the title, "Survey in Japan finds half of companies have morale-draining slacker ojisan", which seems in addition to present the phenomenon as a condition the company suffers. So what I want to know is: 1) In Japanese accounts of the phenomenon described in this article, do the Japanese expressions also give the impression that in each company where this phenomenon is manifested there is only a single case? and 2) Is it in fact the case that in reality in each company where this phenomenon is manifested there is only (or typically) just one bloke who is the "slacker ojisan" for that company?

    (And in the last paragraph, "… also had slacker obasan (middle aged women) who similarly spend …" no article, then plural in the parentheses (as opposed to "ojisan" above, with "man") among other things. Can one not pluralize "ojisan/obasan" in Japanese? But people speaking different languages view a single situation in different ways that translation can not capture. So I want to know about those different ways.)

  4. Andreas Johansson said,

    June 16, 2022 @ 1:23 am

    Japanese nouns do not normally take overt plural marking (hence why you see things like one samurai, two samurai in English). So it seems plausible that the English translations are more numerically specific than the Japanese originals.

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