Comparison of Japanese and Western Management Styles

The key difference between Japanese and Western management style is not one of method but of attitude and philosophy. The Japanese have studied the Western style of management, concentrating mainly on American management styles for the past 30 years and have adapted what they believed to be useful methods to their own work environment. It now appears that Western companies are studying some of the Japanese management styles, attitudes, and philosophy and have adopted areas of work ethic, which they believe to be valuable to their companies. It is necessary that Western companies study and deploy various Japanese management styles because the most important reason behind successful Japanese outcome in productivity and quality is the quality of their work force. Western companies aren’t often able to compete with Japanese companies. They must simply adjust their human relations and ways of management in order to become more competitive with not only Japan, but also the world.

The basic difference between Japanese and Western employees is the connecting relationship between the employee and the employer. In Japan there exists a reasonably strong bond, especially in those circumstances where employees are hired for the stability of their work life. The relationship between company and the employer, under these circumstances become a key aspect of the individual and his or her identity. This employee/employer bond often turns out to be a strong relationship that may grow even stronger than the parent/family or husband/wife. On the other hand, the bond between employee and employer in the West is relatively weak, as it is generally based on a relationship, which can be separated independently by either employee or employer with short notice.

Although in Japan companies, employers do not clearly mention to guarantee lifetime employment to employees, the employee knows that he or she will not be fired even if company is facing difficult economic issues. Only in the case of a near-bankruptcy situation will the employer decide to reduce employees. However, the employer will avoid the Western terms of “fired” or “termination”. Instead, moral suasion will be used to have older employees take early retirement, and if younger employees must be discharged, they will resign “voluntarily”. To Western ears, this may sound like a smoke screen to hide what is commonly known as a layoff. However, it reinforces the commitment of Japanese employers not to decide to layoffs. It is not surprising then, that the lifetime employees of the large Japanese companies develop a strong relationship to their employers.

There are those who argue that when the Japanese approach work, their attitudes about their jobs and their strong connection with their employer are all the outcome of the Japanese “family” style company. In the other words, it is argued that a necessary condition to achieve the Japanese employee/employer connection is the basic cultural environment. Although Japanese companies are very encouraging of the positive employer/employee connection existing in Japan, but it is by no means a necessary condition. Japanese companies have focused their endeavor on human resource improvement that considers a company’s employees, collectively, to be the heart of that company.

On the other hand, the Western approach to the relationship between employee and employer does not satisfy the value of the employee, collectively or individually. In various western companies, the employee usually is considered merely just a part of production. The price paid for parts of production, usually then becomes the market-determined rate, which employers pay for (the needed parts of production). In the Western approach therefore, the employee is not essentially considered to be part of the company that employs him or her. The employee is an outsider, who provides services to the company for a price, and once the price has been paid, then the company has accomplished its responsibilities to that employee.

The Japanese have realized that the employee cannot be considered just a part of production. Conversely, employees are all unique as they can be improved, developed, and motivated. As a result, collectively and individually they make the company with the supply stand out and to compete successfully in the business world. The Japanese hold on to the rule that a supervisor or manager is a leader and must be able to lead and demonstrate how the particular job is done. It is important to understand that the Japanese approach to the relationship between employer and employee was not created to base on humanitarian values. The employee, when he or she is well treated and trained, becomes a valuable resource for the company. Employee value and potential in the company has always been unnoticed and underestimated in Western culture. Fortunately, it is not too late to improve and develop the approach to employer/employee relations in the Western companies. Even though, some Western companies are now starting to changeover, but they will take several years to see the outcomes. The improvement of human resources is a mission and the benefits to be gained are only available in the future. Thus, in order to remain competitive with Japanese companies, Western companies are required to make the necessary improvements now.

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