Sunday, January 18, 2009

Companies: Employment is your #1 job

I'm in Tokyo this week, and it's fascinating to see how the Japanese are responding to the global economic downturn. This morning, one of the Japanese Sunday morning talk shows was focused on the social consequences of Japan, Inc's decision over the past several years to reduce labor costs. With nearly 40% of Japanese employees now working in non-staff jobs (including my graceful, thoughtful new doctor friend, Sugiyama Saiko), Japan has broken the social contract it once had with its workforce. The businessman they interviewed on the show said emphatically that Japanese companies, under pressure from globalization, had started to care too much about shareholders, but that this era was now over. Companies needed to care about their employees, their customers AND their shareholders, he said. A primary duty of a company should be to employ people, he said. I have never known Japanese companies to care much about their shareholders, but in this era of mass layoffs, when our consumption-driven model has collapsed into a paradox of thrift, it's certainly food for thought.

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