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Tuesday, Aug. 1, 2006

Parting is such sweet sorrow: and sometimes amusement


Staff writer

Job-hopping is on the rise in Japan as more and more companies bid farewell to the lifetime employment system. But some managers are still so unprepared for the departure of a subordinate that they often behave irrationally -- sometimes to the point of being downright silly.

So says a recent report by Recruit Agent Co., a major Tokyo-based job-placement agency, which gauged the views of 1,700 people, mostly in their 20s and 30s, about how their bosses reacted when they said they were leaving.

Bosses were put into five different categories according to their responses.

Some bosses tried to keep workers on by saying:

"I won't leave the office today until you change your mind."

"This company is going to turn around soon, I promise. You will regret your decision to change jobs, I promise! Are you still leaving?"

Other bosses got angry: "Don't say 'I'm leaving.' Say 'please let me leave!' "

"Do you know how much money I spent on training you? Give me the money back!"

The perplexed bosses said:

"Well, well, well. . . . Are you serious?"

"Do you think our company isn't worth it?"

Then there were the "congratulatory" types, though they nevertheless contradicted themselves by saying:

"I'm happy about your move as a person, but I'm against it as a company manager."

But even the most pathetic managers would be advised to resist copying what this boss had to say:

"I really don't want you to leave. If you have to go, would you still stay in my life somehow?"

Managers may have got used to the idea of retrenching staff to cut costs, but they can be completely unprepared for workers turning the tables on them.

In the case of a job-hopper we'll call Jane, who recently resigned from a Tokyo company to work for a competitor offering a higher salary, the response from her bosses was "shock that people leave jobs for money."

"One of my bosses asked, 'Money? Is that the reason?' " recalled the thirtysomething career woman, who asked not to be identified by her real name. "Another boss said, 'You do know that your quitting damages the company more than my leaving, don't you?' "

Takao Nagai, head of the Organizational Strategy Research Institute at JEXS Inc., an Osaka-based recruitment agency, says the last thing bosses should do is to react with emotion.

"Even when the ones who are leaving are the ones who are least needed, managers should say, 'That's very unfortunate,' " Nagai said.

It's crucial to maintain a good relationship with departing employees, he explains, because managers will still need them to finish up their work.

An even more important reason for companies to make sure that employees leave amicably is to ensure that they don't divulge confidential information to third parties. Most data leaks are committed by people holding grudges against ex-employers, Nagai said.

"The ones who quit can do all kinds of things," he said. "Without severance pay, they might try to profit from whatever information they have. They can leak data, lodge protests over their unpaid overtime with labor authorities, or tip the tax bureau off on (dubious) accounting practices. They can sue their former bosses alleging sexual harassment, or even 'pawa-hara,' (power harassment)."

So what's the solution? Nagai recommends more Japanese companies follow the example of Western companies and schedule "exit interviews" with departing employees, to hear them out on why they decided to leave, he explained. Such interviews are still uncommon in Japan, but are effective in keeping ill-feeling from spreading outside, he says.

Or managers can be creative in their response, and ask, as at least one departmental boss at a Tokyo company is known to have remarked to a departing staff member: "Any chance your new employer has an opening?"



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