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3 Very Different Work Traditions from Around the Globe

Dec19News Different Work Traditions


Paying someone to quit on your behalf? Legally not having to respond to an email after hours? Here are three interesting approaches to work from around the world.

Every country has its own special work culture. Other countries might wonder what exactly Australia and New Zealand mean by smoko (“it’s like brunch of something?”) but it’s just common knowledge here.

Similarly, other countries have institutions and traditions that we would find baffling if they happened down under. HRM takes a look at a couple.

The Japanese ‘Exit Service’

The culture around quitting a job is very different in Japan. While an Australian boss might be miffed if you decide to leave them high and dry, they’re not likely to threaten or abuse you for what’s widely considered a legitimate personal decision.

But in Japan, there is still a tradition of remaining loyal to a single company throughout your whole life. Quitting is the ultimate betrayal.

In an article for Culture Trip, a software engineer named L-San, a Filipino man who was based in Japan, recalls his boss verbally abusing him and telling him that he’d try and prevent him from finding other work in Japan after L-San quit the job that had him working 12-13 hour days, and working on weekends and during holidays.

The fear of such a reaction is why ‘exit services’ are cropping up in Japan. These are organisations that allow you to hire someone that can on your behalf.

EXIT was one of the first organisations to offer such a service. For the equivalent of AU$660 for a full-time role and $400 for a part-time role, co-founders Yuichiro Okazaki and Toshiyuki Niino phone employers and inform them that their staff member will be quitting to avoid any embarrassment or shame felt by the departing employee.

“When we contact the employers of a client, one of the most typical responses is that they’re surprised a job like ours exists,” says Okazaki. “Some people get angry, while a few other employers have said that they feel sorry for our clients.”

Japan is notorious for its culture of overworking, it even has a term for ‘death from overworking’ – Karoshi. So it’s no surprise like a service like this exists. Earlier this year, Okazaki told Culture Trip that thousands of people (70 per cent of them men) have accessed EXIT since it launched in 2017.

The French right to disconnect

Even if your employer doesn’t explicitly ask you to respond to work emails/phone calls or text messages out of hours, it can be difficult to ignore the request of a senior staff member that pops up on your screen when you’re trying to relax after work.

France tried to do something about this conundrum. In 2017 it passed a labor law designed to make it easier for staff to switch off once they clock off.

Under the legislation, in a bid to put an end to undeclared and unpaid labour, organisations with over 50 employees are required to negotiate with staff about the nature of out-of-office communication. This includes agreeing on when staff should and shouldn’t be expected to respond to workplace emails.

HRM covered the introduction of the law in 2017 and noted that while it was good in theory, there were some complexities to consider. Notably, the law didn’t actually punish non-compliant organisations. Employers were obligated to negotiate with staff, but were not obligated to reach an agreement.

Two years on and other nations have started following in France’s footsteps. Italy, Luxembourg and the Philippines have passed similar legislation and other countries have signalled an interest.

Spain, for example, brought in the ‘Data Production and Digital Rights Act’ late last year, which included a provision around the right to turn off during downtime.

In America, New York City has introduced a bill (yet to be passed) that would require businesses with over 10 employees to ban the requirement for workers to respond to out-of-hours communication. Employers would be fined $250USD for non-compliance but the law wouldn’t ban staff from contacting each other.

Councilman Rafael Espinal told the New York Times, “It says that you, as an employee, should have the right to not answer that call or that email, without fear of retaliation.”

Interestingly, new research from the University of Sussex suggests that having policies around restricted email use can actually cause employees more anxiety. According to the study, some people feel more stressed about coming into the office and finding an inbox jammed with requests and enquiries than they do if they are able to filter through them during leisure time.

Three of the main reasons staff cited for logging onto their emails after work hours were having a sense of control over their workload, preserving personal wellbeing and working more effectively. So compulsory disconnection policies like might only be effective for a portion of the workforce.

Emma Russell, a lead researcher for the study, told BBC News, “People need to deal with email in the way that suits their personality and their goal priorities in order to feel like they are adequately managing their workload.”

Forced to work up a sweat in Sweden

It’s common for a lot of Swedish employers to subsidise exercise costs for staff. Economics researcher Carl Cederstrom told the Decan Chronicle that many Swedes believe “that if you exercise and take care of your body, you’re a better person”. He says they even see their physical health as a responsibility they owe to employers.

One company has made this responsibility explicit, by making exercise during work hours mandatory.

Fashion retailer Bjorn Borg requires staff leave their office on Fridays for what’s known as ‘sports hour’. Speaking to Bloomberg Business Week, CEO Henrik Bunge talks about his unconventional management style, which also includes banning all chairs in the office because “everyone was sitting all the time”.

To repeat, this isn’t just a nice workplace initiative, sports hour is mandatory.

“If your wife is calling, saying ‘I just got hit by a car,’ then drop everything,” says Bunge. “But besides that – in terms of work, at least – the ability to get as much out of the work hours that you have is about focusing on one thing at the time. The rigid focus on time is the easiest way of building a disciplined organization. It’s such a strong symbol.”

Bjorn Borg isn’t an outlier. Construction consultancy Rotpartner and city water company Kalmar Vatten are  apparently have similar mandatory exercise policies.

And while it be draconian, there is evidence supporting the measure. A 2011 study from Stockholm University and Karolinska Institutet published in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, found it’s beneficial when staff take time out of the work day to engage in any kind of ‘health-promoting’ activities.

For the experiment, the researchers studied three groups of dentists. One was asked to exercise for 2.5 each week, another had their work hours decreased and did no exercise, and the third group maintained a normal 40 hour work week and did not exercise.

All three groups were able to maintain or increase their productivity but the first group had improved levels of self-assessed productivity and were sick less often.

“This increased productivity comes, on the one hand, from people getting more done during the hours they are at work, perhaps because of increased stamina and, on the other hand, from less absenteeism owing to sickness,” says the researchers behind the study.

Hearing about the different laws and traditions of other countries made me wonder, what if we had them here? Well, if my employer forced me to exercise, I’d pay someone $600 to quit on my behalf. Although I’d make sure to tell them not to call or email out of work hours.


DISCLAIMER: This article is general ONLY in nature and is not advice
First published by HRM Online, Kate Neilson, 8 November 2019