The look people make when they're the last one to board a train on a Friday night is sometimes enough to instigate a rage dump. They step onto a crowded public vehicle at the last minute and, ignoring the number of people standing, look at the benches full of passengers. The face is often the same; a look of disgust and disappointment that there are no seats remaining. The thought of waiting 5 minutes for the next empty train to arrive never crosses their mind, though. They have to get home as soon as possible. They are, after all, the most important person on the planet.
It's 9:33 PM. You're tired. I can see it in the lines under your eyes. Dark circles of exhaustion are seen on 90% of all the faces on this platform. Our train is running late. Our dinner is waiting at home. If we're lucky, someone will warm it up for us as we walk through the door. For many here, though, that might not be the case. Years of late night returns means that we'll have a plate waiting for us in the fridge, maybe with a short memo scribbled on a yellow sticky note that's not so sticky thanks to the cold. "お疲れ様でした1" it'll read ... assuming there's anybody at home waiting for us. I understand.
One of the bigger VIP clients I regularly deliver English lessons at is working on a really exciting project. Over the last decade they've seen a remarkable amount of growth overseas and have built factories in China, Vietnam, Poland, and Brazil. They're also currently considering opening a new plant in Mexico, and another in South Africa. Fifteen years ago this company was just a twinkle in the eyes of its investors, and now it's a global name in auto manufacturing components. So, as a global organisation, they need a versatile IT backend to support their business needs in real time. Their current system is not capable of keeping up with the needs of a fast-moving company, so it's being redesigned from the ground up. I had a chance to sit down and discuss the project with the lead architect, and some of the decisions they made early on in the design stage have shed a great deal of insight on the fundamental beliefs of the corporation.
Over the last few months I have noticed an ongoing problem. I'm unable to relax and unwind. When I am at work I am forever pushing the boundaries of how much work can be done in the few minutes between lessons. When I am at home I am forever trying to spend time with my family, study Japanese, and work on a project1. When I am on the train I feel as though I am wasting time because I'm not actively doing something, instead I typically listen to podcasts so that I can feel as though I have intelligent conversations with people in real life … which is something that very, very rarely happens. Relaxation is, for the most part, impossible. Something needs to change.
A recent conversation with an HR person has shed some light on a question I've long had since coming to Japan. I have seen time and again people being assigned to jobs that they are neither interested in or particularly enthusiastic about. There are also a number of people that have told me about being moved from a job they enjoyed to a completely different department in order to "balance things out" in a particular section. The balance has little to do with what the organisation actually needs, though, and instead focuses on an imaginary metric that companies have imposed on themselves regarding what sorts of staffing numbers are required in a particular area … whether it's actually needed or not. This lead me to ask a number of questions about how HR views their people.