Is Being Too Committed to Your Job a Bad Thing?

You may or may not know it, but one of the stereotypical traits of a Japanese person is that they are hard workers. Is it true? Well, I don’t think any stereotype is 100% verifiable. But I do think many Japanese people devote a lot more time to their jobs than I suspected. Often it can even be for jobs that don’t pay all that much. I don’t think the time spent at work is always productive, but sometimes staff members will stay just to show gaman (がまん or 我慢) that sense of patience, that sense of self-denial, the ability to “suffer” with your co-workers. I have often heard that one way to get in good with Japanese workers in a company is to stay as late as they do. It really builds rapport.

I won’t sit here and lie to you, I don’t stay as late as many of teachers at my school. Many stay until seven, eight, or on rare occasions, 9:00 pm on a regular basis. Considering that many teachers come in at 8:00 or earlier, that translates into 12-hour days on a regular basis. I always excuse myself when I leave around 4:45, saying “O saki ni shitsurei shimasu (please excuse me for leaving early).”

While some of the Japanese teachers may have a reason to stay early, I can’t say it would be all that beneficial for me to stay late. I’d just be looking busy and wasting my time. If I am studying Japanese, sometimes I’ll stay later. The latest I’ve left (if you exclude my welcome party) is around 6:15. At one time I would have felt really bad for leaving (sorry, just being honest). I really and truly enjoy teaching and do my absolute best to teach good/effective lessons, but that doesn’t mean I need to stay there all night.

Sometimes I have to wonder, though, when people stay late it it because they want to? Because of they love their jobs? For appearance’s sake? Out of obligation? Lack of other staff members? I’m sure every case is different, but I think sometimes people confuse time spent with being committed to a job. It is true when you’re devoted to something, you put a lot of time in (I did a post called The 10,000 Hours Approach to Japanese…please take a look :) ). But just because a person puts in time doesn’t mean that they’re devoted to what they’re doing. Does that make sense?

So is being too committed to your job a bad thing? My answer to that is “yes” if your job is making you miserable, stressing you out or throwing everything else in your life, health/family/friends, way out of balance. My answer is “no” if you’ve found something that you’re head over heels in love with what you’re doing. I would have told Bruce Lee “You are way too committed to your martial arts.” I never would never say to Lady Gaga “You are spending WAY too much time on your music!” Or say to Warren Buffet “You are too committed to investing.” I can’t say that these people necessarily have balanced lives, but they’ve really made a lasting difference in their respective fields. In some cases, with some people, without their level of commitment, the world as we know it would be worse off.

What do you think? Is being too committed to your work/to a job a bad thing?

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  • I think this is one of those cultural differences. If you were raised with the mentality that putting in those hours is normal… then I don’t think it would be detrimental to you. However, having grown up with the idea that one should “have a life outside of work” I don’t think that keeping up a 12 hour workday on a regular basis is something that an American can easily adapt to at first (or at all for some people). Neither way is bad in my eyes.

    Both have their own ways of increasing production. Being well rested and happy outside of the office means you can be genki and gambarre during the week. It makes the time that you are there efficient. However, spending extra hours obviously means you get more work done as well. It’s just a matter of perspective.

    • ” If you were raised with the mentality that putting in those hours is normal… then I don’t think it would be detrimental to you.”

      I think you have confused two entirely different things.

      A) That something is detrimental to you
      B) that you *believe* that something is detrimental to you.

      Something can be detrimental to you, and you can believe that it’s not detrimental to you, such as an abusive spouse, or the average work-week put in by most Japanese.

      Something can be non-detrimental to you, and you can believe that it is detrimental to you, such as [insert fairly standard drama narrative whereby someone complains about their SO not doing above-and-beyond things].

      The simple fact of the matter, as evidenced by a slew of surveys of general happiness in Japan, economic output, levels of depression, and any other objective barometer you wish to use, is that working 60+ hours a week completely fucks up any personal relationships you may wish to have.

      If that’s not ‘detrimental’ to your health/life, then I don’t know the meaning of the word.

      “However, spending extra hours obviously means you get more work done as well.”

      Really? It sounds like you’ve never been in an office. You should watch people clock in hours and hours playing on their DS, or surfing the ‘net, or just listening to music.

      Spending extra hours at work only means one thing: you have spent less hours elsewhere. It does not mean that you have been productive. You may have been productive, but that doesn’t speak to the other several million people who were at work.

  • Ceci

    Hmmmm, good question. For me, it also hits a nerve. Nevertheless, I’m going to try not to foam at the mouth in public, nor achieve maximum verbosity. Yes, I can do this….

    Ahem….I like dedication, really. But there’s a time to know when you’re not really doing something because of dedication or deep seated interest. You’re staying late just to “show face”. That, I can’t stand. It gets my hackles up when people expect that of anyone. If you’re a boss, look at the quality of someone’s work, then the quantity, if it’s enough, let them freaking rest and enjoy life. For all I know, we only get one go round in this game called life. So why fill it to the brim with doing something just for appearances sake, or for petty approval (which you’re probably not going to get anyway, particularly if “everyone else” is already doing it too). Now, if it’s short term and really helpful, burn the candle at both ends, live at the office til that project is done. But if you’re just doing busy work. No…as in “N”…”O”.

    If you’re having to stay late doing scut work, then the office is understaffed. We’ve got so many people out of work around the U.S. that it makes no sense to be working one set 70 hours per week while others sit idle. Now, I know why we do it. They feel compelled to work overtime *for free* (because they’re terrified of getting laid off), while a part-timer would have to be paid. So we create one set of workers, that are frazzled and that have no time for family and other set of workers who can’t purchase anything to help drive the economy. Sounds like short term gain and long term stupidity to me.

    A society that coerces workers to constantly work overtime by using guilt and fear (we have that in the U.S. in spades), fills me with dread. I’ve had a great job before. One that I worked all hours in (probably averaged 60-70 every week for several years). I did sleep at the lab sometimes. I wore a pager too. I *loved* it. I felt like I was doing meaningful work and the job was an intellectual challenge to me. Actually, it wasn’t a job. It *was me*. But not many jobs are that way for people and I think it’s a mistake to think that everyone should force themselves to act like they’re living that experience even when they’re not. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with putting in your 8-9 hours every day. If you get to develop technical mastery and excel at what you do, that’s the most important thing.

    Showing face and making sure you always appear busy….utter waste of time and talent.

    Rant off

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