strong work ethic is vital to the success of any firm. In recent years thee have been many comparisons made between the work ethic of American and Japanese employees. (Rhody 1995) The purpose of this discussion is to compare and contrast Japan's management theories and work ethics with that of the United States.
Japanese Management Theory and Work Ethic
Japanese workers are among the most productive workers in the world. (Rhody 1995) Much of this productivity has been attributed to a strong work ethic and the managerial structure of the Japanese Labor Force. (Rhody 1995) According to an article in the journal Public Personnel Management, the Japanese management style that is practiced contributes greatly to the productivity that exists throughout the country. The journal explains, "Japanese management deals with each employee as a person rather than a worker. This concern tends to go beyond the job and the paycheck." (Rhody 1995)
The management theories used by the Japanese have long been a topic of debate.
A prime example of the management style of the Japanese can be found in the various Japanese car companies including; Nissan, Toyota and Honda. According to SAM Advanced Management Journal,
The Japanese have introduced into the work environment a sense of community. Toyota, for example, has a day care center for young mothers who wish to work. Out of the 6,000 people employed at the plant, roughly 5,900 are Americans, mostly from Kentucky (Aaron, 1996). This sense of community tends to foster togetherness or rather a sense of fate: what happens to one will happen to all...By careful screening of their prospective employees, the Japanese have assembled a potent workforce committed to their families, jobs, and local environment. After the selection process, training and development of human resources, employee attitudes, job satisfaction, and the importance of quality and continuous improvement are also very critical in Japanese organizational culture. (Laws and Tang 1999)
As you can see Japanese managers care a great deal about their workers and go to great lengths to support their employees. In turn employees want to perform well for those that are in managerial positions. This type of managerial practice helps employees to feel more at ease because they feel secure in their job positions; when people have job security their productivity level and their loyalty to the company increases.
A book entitled Japanese Patterns of Behavior explains why the Japanese work ethic is such an important part of the social customs of that nation. (Lebra 1976) The author asserts that the structure of Japanese society is such that hard work is expected and that a strong work ethic is taught from a very early age. (Lebra 1976) The author also insists that the Japanese work ethic was established because of the nation's historical dependence upon agricultural products. (Lebra 1976)
The book asserts that, role commitment, associated with either status or belongingness, receives cultural support from the internalized moral value of work. This work ethic, which is regarded as an equivalent to the Protestant work ethic, may relate to the historical fact that the aristocracy in Japan, compared with its European, Chinese, and Indian counterparts, has formed a less distinct cultural elite, less separate from the working mass (Hasegawa 1966). The working man covered with sweat and dirt was a morally idealized figure that, of course, was fully utilized by the samurai elite of feudal Japan, who were parasitically dependent upon diligent peasants. In addition to such a social-structural explanation, some offer an ecological explanation for Japanese diligence: the dependence of wet-rice agriculture on intensive labor, leading to the equation of the more labor, the more yield (Koike et al. 1969)." (Lebra 1976)
The tireless work ethic of Japanese employees has contributed greatly to the success of many of the nation's firms. For the most part, this success has been unrivaled. Not only do the Japanese have an unwavering work ethic but the products that are created in Japan are second to none in terms of quality and reliability.
American Managerial Theory and Work Ethic
Like the Japanese, Americans also have a specific managerial theories and a strong work ethic. Although, many argue that the American work ethic and current managerial strategies are not as strong as they once were.
A book entitled, The American Work Ethic and the Changing WorkForce: An Historical Perspective, explains that the work ethic of older Americans is much different than that of the contemporary generation. (Applebaum 1998) The book explores the American work ethic from the Colonial period down to Twentieth century. The author explains that the "colonial period was the time when the ideology of work, the American work ethic, took root, and that too has withstood the test of time. Americans still value work and still consider it an obligation to society, to oneself, and to one's family." (Applebaum 1998)
The book also asserts that by the twentieth century the industrial revolution had drastically changed the American economy and the manner in which people worked. (Applebaum 1998) The author explains that the American workforce became one dependent on mass production and mechanization. (Applebaum 1998) The nation also became more dependent upon computers and information technology. (Applebaum 1998) The book asserts,
The consequence of the change to a computer- and information-dominated society is that work and the work ethic is being redefined as the twentieth century comes to a close. Workers desiring good jobs require better education and need to be more flexible and prepared to change jobs as rapidly as changing markets for goods and labor change. In industries using new technologies the work environment is in constant change due to new products. Companies with fast technological changes tend to employ workers with higher levels of education, the kind of workers who have more flexibility and the capacity for further learning." (Applebaum 1998)
In addition, to the changes in the American work ethic there has also been a marked change in the managerial theories that govern American firms. During the nineteenth century and throughout most of the twentieth century mangers prided themselves on providing employees with life long jobs. (Applebaum 1998) During this time period American workers enjoyed a type of security that is unheard of in the American labor market that is unheard of in the twenty-first century; the job security that existed in the past prompted people to work harder and to be more productive. (Applebaum 1998) In today's society many workers simply work for a company until another company offers them a better salary or more benefits. American workers no longer have that sense of loyalty that comes along with job security. (Applebaum 1998)
Additionally, managers fail to cater to the needs of workers and have the tendency to make employees feel that they can easily be replaced.
This managerial theory is much different than the one that is practiced in Japan in which managers take special interests in the personal lives of workers. When American managers fail to view their employees as people with lives outside of the workplace they have a difficult time creating a job environment that is conducive with high levels of productivity.
Our investigation has shown that work ethic of Americans and the Japanese are very similar. Both societies believe that hard work is an essential component in life but for different reasons. One the one hand the Japanese have a social system that is based on the concept of collectivism. This means that the Japanese work ethic is based on the notion that hard work is good for the entire society and thus it is good for the individual. On the other hand American work ethic is based on individualism. This means that Americans have a strong work ethic because they feel that hard work is good for the individual and eventually…
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