Japanese companies in Europe vary widely in their style of business depending largely on the size of the company and its function. Here are some hints about what to expect:
In general, Japanese companies prefer a flexible-minded person who can co-operate well with colleagues.
The style of business in Japan is based on consensus decisions where the whole management and often also the work force is consulted and agrees a common plan of actions for important decisions. Naturally, decision making takes longer with Japanese companies, but it has the advantage that when the consensus is reached, most or all of the company is in full agreement and are moving in the same direction.
This can make Japanese companies slow to react, but extremely effective once the decision is reached.
Teamwork and harmony in the workplace are very important aspects of Japanese working culture.
Conflict is highly discouraged, and combative personalities will find themselves out of place in a Japanese company. Mutual harmony makes the company much more enjoyable to work in and also increases effectiveness because employees and management can devote their full attention outside towards the goal of doing business and are less distracted by internal feuds and conflicts.
It is widely believed that Japanese employees work extremely long hours. This is true in Japan, where it is quite common to leave the office between 20:00 to 22:00 in the evening. In Europe, the European employees of Japanese companies are not required to work in the same way.
Although overtime is sometimes required, just the same as with European or American companies (especially for management or sales positions), this is definitely overtime, and it is generally not expected for Europeans to maintain the same working hours as Japanese staff. Working conditions almost always follow the local European standard, including vacation time and social benefits.
This is normally a small office with around one, two or three Japanese staff and a few European staff. The purpose of the company is generally collecting information on European market trends, particularly as a prelude to opening a sales office. Since this type of company is so small and has very close contact with Japan, the company climate normally closely resembles its mother company in Japan.
In such a company, because it is so small, functions are very much shared as a team.
Medium sized Sales Branches:
This type of company is very common in Europe and generally has around 10-35 employees. The number of Japanese staff depends on the type of products sold. If the products are standardised „off-the-shelf“ products, then there are normally only a few Japanese managers. If the products are custom-made and developed in co-operation with the research and development department in Japan, then the percentage of Japanese staff is much higher, as much as 50%.
Such companies are often a mixture of Japanese and European business culture because they understand that to sell in Europe, the Japanese company must adjust very closely to European ways. It is quite common for such companies to have offices also in the USA and other parts of the world and to have an international culture. Generally they do not have manufacturing in Europe, so products are mostly shipped from Asia or the USA.
Larger trading companies:
Over the last few decades, many trading companies have opened offices in Europe. They generally work in many diverse branches and products, representing companies in Japan which are not yet prepared to open their own branch in Europe. Such companies are often quite traditional and one could expect around 20% of the staff to be Japanese, although this has decreased over recent years.
The biggest name Japanese companies in Europe generally have large offices with hundreds of employees and manufacturing in Europe. Companies you often find in this category are the famous consumer electronics companies, whose brand names are well known to us. This type of company normally has only a very few Japanese staff to collect reports and to keep the mother company informed. They often openly state that they are a European company or an international company. These are therefore the least Japanese of Japanese companies, although they normally still have some business ways still embedded in them from the past or filtering down from the mother-company in Japan.
Benefits of a Japanese company:
– Japanese companies rarely fire their employees, and go to great lengths to help staff if they are having private problems. This gives one more stability in their job and in life.
– They are normally very friendly and listen to what employees recommend. The atmosphere is normally very cooperative and not so competitive. Office politics and mobbing occur far less in Japanese companies than in most other cultures.
– Jobs are generally more interesting because they offer a wide variety of tasks and flexibility.
– As they seriously plan in the long-term, Japanese companies are generally very stable and do not totally change their structure and priorities every 6 months as is often the case with American companies.
So in summary, a Japanese company is not for everyone, but has advantages and disadvantages as with every business culture. Occasionally people tell us that a Japanese company is not for them, but mostly we hear people say they enjoy the culture so much that they would prefer to make their career in a Japanese company.
Such perspective is a matter of taste and I hope we have helped to give you some idea of what you could expect in a Japanese company so that you can decide if it is attractive to you.