Why Japanese People (don’t) Change Jobs

Why Japanese People (don't) Change Jobs

Japan is famous for employees working at one company for all their lives. It still doesn’t seem like changing jobs is common. However, it is getting more accepted, so don’t shy away from following your calling at another company.

Job-changes in Japan

Japanese employees stay at one job for around 10 years on average, while in the US this number hovers just above 4 years. Why is it that Japanese people statistically change their jobs less frequently than people in other countries? Let’s take a look at the most common reasons employees in Japan do change jobs to find out.

Company-related reasons

  • ■ Company bankruptcy/closure
  • ■ HR personal shuffle, retirement recommendation
  • ■ Concern about the future, and company stagnation

Personal reasons

  • ■ Marriage, childbirth, childcare
  • ■ Family care and nursing
  • ■ For health reasons
  • ■ For retirement age
  • ■ Better working conditions

Most Japanese change jobs due to company circumstances or for family-related reasons, and many cases involve a transfer into a lower-income position. This is the complete opposite to the US, where aspects like higher pay and career advancement play key roles in job changes.

One reason for the Japanese reluctance to change jobs lies in the lifetime employment system. It rewarded loyalty to the company through its seniority-based benefit system. Staying with a company grants more vacation days, higher income, and other advantages. From this standpoint, a job change could only hurt one’s career. Many companies also saw mid-career applicants with skepticism and as potential trouble-makers. The reasoning being, that they must have done poorly at their old company.

Toward more mobility

Nowadays, companies are moving away from the lifetime employment system and towards more merit-based approaches, basing benefits on the actual skills of employees. This created the basis to allow for a more positive view of job changes. Nevertheless, the old way of thinking is still deeply ingrained into the labor law and the minds of many Japanese.

Still, change is happening, and the Japanese job market is slowly opening up. According to a study by the Japanese Statistics Bureau (総務省統計局, そうむしょとうけいきょく) the number of Japanese who change jobs continues to increase. What is more, a generational shift seems to be happening. Young people between 25-34 years of age are twice as likely to change jobs than those between the ages of 45-54.

That said, part of the reason is that in reaction to the recession some companies rather hire temp staff and contract workers than full-time employees. With an increase in such short-term contracts, the turn-over rate goes up as well. If the lifetime employment system did one thing, it was providing stability for everyone in it. Flexibility is the new keyword. Welcome to the West…

The process is still underway but in total mid-career job changes are getting more accepted in society. Especially managers have an easy time finding new jobs (if you look on certain English job sites in Japan that’s almost all you will find) but also for foreigners, women reentering the workforce, and others searching for a new job, things are looking up.

Job Change as a foreigner

Japan has never been more welcoming to foreigners as now. The shrinking Japanese workforce doesn’t only create a surplus of job offers. It also makes companies look for new ways to hire, leading to higher normalization of career changes and more openness to working with foreigners. Management and English teaching positions remain the most common in English language job boards. But these are only a small part of the positions available. For more opportunities look around, attend job fairs, get in touch with a recruiter, or even dare to venture into Japanese territory – you might be surprised.

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After traveling around for a while, I found my home in Tokyo. Now working in Shinjuku and discovering something new about Japan every day.