Media Mix, Jan. 27, 2013

52bccc10d95bb43d19e878fcb0cd6648Here’s this week’s Media Mix about oidashi beya, a relatively new method of personnel rationalization where redundant employees are assigned to sections that give them nothing to do. The term was made popular in a feature by the Asahi Shimbun, but in the column I mentioned another article in Aera, published by the same parent company, which covers the topic but from a more hopeful perspective: white collar workers who have managed to find better jobs after their layoffs. One man in his 40s who tells the magazine that he was transferred to an oidashi beya in the winter of 2011. But the section is called the Career Design Department, so it’s not as much of a euphemism as other companies’ oidashi beya. The man’s task after his assignment was to prepare for transfer “outside the company,” meaning he was given some assistance to find work elsewhere, and though he would continue to receive pay and benefits his salary would decrease by ¥500,000 a year as long as he remained there. At first, the man felt despair, because he had always received favorable evaluations from his superiors. There was a strong “why me?” character to his desperation, but when you learn that he was getting ¥7.5 million a year you can understand why the company targeted him for layoff. In accordance with lifetime employment tradition, his company would be expected to increase that pay regularly until he retired in 20 years. If this doesn’t sound particularly hopeful, bear in mind that others portrayed in the article have actually done better, presumably because they looked on the layoff as an opportunity. I don’t mean to sugarcoat the scary experience of losing one’s job in middle age, but this has been a burgeoning reality for almost 20 years, and anyone who thinks that his company’s first priority is his livelihood is obviously living a fantasy. It’s obvious from the article that the people who have survived their career change did so because they didn’t romanticize their positions within their previous companies. One man, also in his 40s, was let go by “a major electronics maker” and, thanks to the employment outreach service hired by the company to help redundant employees find new work, gained a position at a stationery company, which at first sounded like a step down, but after he started working he was “shocked” by the “profit margins” that his new company commands. Though electronics has more prestige, fierce competition results in smaller profits. In a sense, his eyes were opened: reputation means nothing if the company isn’t making enough money. A few laid off workers in the article were headhunted by foreign firms, mainly American, Taiwanese, and Korean. One even went to Samsung, his previous company’s rival, and he realized that one of the ways the Korean giant became a world leader was by hiring Japanese guys like him and appropriating their management know-how, not to mention their technological expertise. He didn’t feel any sense of betrayal at all. It’s just business. As one company president told Aera, if you’re in a company that’s losing money and you think you’re going to be laid off, be proactive and start looking before they let you go, because once you are you’re tainted meat “and your market value goes down,” in both the eyes of potential employers and, more importantly, your own head.

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