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Thursday, March 08, 2007

Choosing to Opt Out

Today, *Twinkle* is handing in her notice at the company she's been working at since January. It's one of Japan's largest advertising companies, and its name looks great on a CV.

There's just one problem with this company: it overworks its employees. Yesterday was not atypical: she left the house at 8am, and got home just after midnight. It's not surprising then that incidents of karoushi (death through overwork) have occurred there.

Whilst the rat-race mentality is strong in much of the Western world, it is even stronger in Japan. University students spend much of their final two years looking for post-grad jobs, neglecting their studies for the sake of their future careers. It's no wonder they put so little effort into their studies - university offers them the vital break that they need from the stress that is pre-uni entrance exams and post-uni work hell. It seems that the majority of my Japanese university friends simply take it as a given that the thing to do, post-graduation, is to get a job with a respected company (any will do, although international corporations seem to be favoured), and work their arses off until they can afford the down payment on a rabbit hutch.

Whilst the 'job for life' is now pretty much a thing of the past, there is still a strong desire amongst young people to work for a 'good' (a.k.a. large) company, a company that will become their family, to the extent that they will all go on holiday together, staying in the holiday homes owned by the company.

When they begin work their wage is normally pretty shoddy, but if they stay there ten years or so they might be able to make a living. Thankfully, this seniority wage system is on the way out as competition from abroad chisels away at the power of industry cartels. There's annual bonuses too, which people tend to think of as just that, 'bonuses', whereas in fact they are nothing more than withheld pay. Look at *Twinkle*'s company and you might think they are very generous: her salary is about 20% higher than the average starting wage. She gets all her expenses paid, is able to take quite a bit of paid holiday ...and is given £50 to buy a new bag!

Who would resign from a job like that? Someone who's figured out that when one adds all of this up and divides it by the ridiculous number of hours they have to work, they get little more than the shift-manager at a fast food restaurant, for a job that is far harder, and physically absolutely exhausting.

Ok, so what if she stayed there for a few more years? Let's look at her boss as an example. Does he work fewer hours? Certainly not. Does he earn more money? Yes, he does, but is he getting his fair share for the amount of work he's putting in? Well, our figures show that he generates £800,000 of business for his company every year. His share of that? £30,000. Doesn't that strike you as slightly odd?

I look at that situation, and I think, "Why is he selling his time at such a low rate when he is clearly worth much more?" Imagine if he put all his energy and expertise into his own business! Ok, so he might not be able to generate £800,000, but I'm sure he'd be better off than he is at present. Not just financially, (and of course at the end of the day if money was all he was concerned about he'd be destined for failure), but in terms of satisfaction, in terms of his sense of achievement, in terms of the emotional rewards that achieving one's dreams brings.

*Twinkle* and I very much want to become business owners, in order that we may have a passive income that will enable us to achieve our other goals. The list includes my using photos, videos, words and technology to make a positive impact upon people's lives, to generate a lot of money for charity, to have the ability to make large numbers of people aware of their impact upon the environment and the necessity for change, to have the ability to empower people to make the changes that they wish to make, and to improve people's health, both here, and in places where they lack even clean drinking water.

In order to achieve these dreams (in the words of Jim Rohn), "You've got to work harder on yourself than you do on your job!"

*Twinkle*'s current job is not allowing her to work on herself as much as she would like to. It is so exhausting that at the end of the day she has so little energy that she can barely talk, let alone read a book, or work on our own businesses. Yes, she has learned quite a lot these past few months, but the price has been sky high. It is simply not worth it. The rat race mentality would tell her to keep at it for a few years, until she's promoted, until her salary goes up - then she'll be happy as we'll be able to move into a bigger house bla bla bla. The rat race mentality would tell her that quitting her job is a sign of failure, that she hasn't been able to keep up with the big boys, that this will look very bad on her CV.

But these are industry-generated beliefs whose sole purpose is to ensure that the masses do not wake up to the reality of the poor treatment they are receiving. It's the Matrix all over again.

If we are to succeed in life, success in this case being defined as the achievement of dreams, then it is vital that we take control. We must take the red pill. The system *Twinkle* bought into at the beginning of this year is detrimental to our progress, thus, she is opting out.

I must say I'm so happy to have found someone so like-minded. I don't recall debating any of this in the few weeks of negotiations leading up to our first kiss (!), so it's all come as a very nice surprise.

Now, if I can just get this university degree out of the way I can get on with things.

Tatta

3 Comments:

Blogger Shari said...

While I agree with everything you say about not being overworked and about quitting a job where you're getting used, I think it's misleading to conclude a man is not getting a sufficient chunk of the pie because he generates far more yen in business than appears to be reflected in his salary.

I'm guessing this fellow is a salesman (since only they generate business directly). The problem is that sales people have to generate income far in excess of their salaries to pay for all the other support costs including the salaries of the staff who provide services that the salespeople sell.

At our former job, there were 3 salespeople supporting the salaries of at least 6 other staff members who worked in various sections (materials development, instruction, logistics, accounting, and management). If you add in the fact that things like rent, advertising and utilities and at least some profit for the company all have to come out of the sales a salesperson garners, they must generate a lot of business to keep a company afloat.

If you factor in the fact that Japanese companies often have a lot of low and inefficient performers at the start of their employment who are carried by more seasoned performers, they have an added burden to sell even more.

Finally, the way sales work in Japan is often more a matter of inheritance than effort. That is, a senior salesman may retire and when he leaves, his clients are divided up among the remaining salespeople (disproportionately to senior salespeople). If you get a favorable piece of the pie, your sales go up greatly through no effort of your own.

It's my guess that a salesman would have to make get at least 6x his salary in total business to be worth keeping around in an average company. In a company with a lot of skilled employees with higher wages, they'd probably have to make more.

9/3/07 10:06  
Blogger Joseph said...

Ah, yes, good point. You are quite right - he does have to generate the income to cover the unproductive staff, and yes, he was handed a lot of clients from his predecessors, just as *Twinkle* would have been this month had she not decided to opt for life again.

I think one of the things I find frustrating is seeing someone as capable as he is (whilst it is true that he was handed a good number of clients, he is, nonetheless, excellent at his job), feeling that he has to obey the rules of the system, that is, work for some company for a good number if years, rise through the ranks, until the day he can branch out on his own, a day which in his mind appears to be well over a decade away.

I guess this is the impatient side of me coming through. I think also, the reason I am so against this delaying of actually making concrete steps towards achieving a dream (in this case, the starting of his own company), is that I see so much of myself in him. Procrastinating. Believing it will happen "one day", just not today. I've spent so many years doing this now I'm pretty amazed that I've managed to get anything done.

9/3/07 10:39  
Anonymous Amelia said...

Congratulations to Twinkle for making a difficult decision for good reasons. All the best to you both in working out your next step.

11/3/07 07:22  

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