back to article Japan's unwanted IT workers dumped in 'forcing-out rooms'

Some of Japan’s biggest technology companies send certain employees to “boredom" or "forcing-out" rooms where they’re forced to undertake menial tasks designed to make them quit. A New York Times report detailed the experience of 51-year-old Sony employee Shusaku Tani who refused to take early retirement after his position at …

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Devil

How odd-

The tasks these employees are forced to take on sound like a normal day in the office for a lot of UK staff.

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Joke

@hplasm Re: How odd-

Wrote :- " sound[s] like a normal day in the office for a lot of UK staff."

Just like my job; I hadn't realised I was in a forcing-out room.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: How odd-

Sounds like my career at IBM

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Anonymous Coward

British People

The single largest threat to the Japanese IT Industry.

"He just sits there all day on Reddit??"

"How can one man look at so many cat pictures???"

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Re: British People

The single biggest problem, according to a US paper, is that Japanese employment law is not the same as US employment law.

I'm not convinced that makes sense. The Japanese economy has had long periods of success with employment law which protected the workers so I can't see that the employment law is the problem.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: British People

"The Japanese economy has had long periods of success with employment law which protected the workers so I can't see that the employment law is the problem."

Indeed. This is NOT the problem of these laws. It's a problem with the companies themselves! As I see the same corporate comments in other western countries (including the UK) with regards to suposedly high costs of production.

They're always looking for higher profits and cost-cutting measures instead of promoting in-house research, development AND production. Instead of being proud of being native and upholding high quality standards. Instead of being happy with the fact that they even make profit. It's a global problem stricken with ALL big corporations with greedy leadership with no regard for the common employees.

This happens everywhere in the world. Unfortunately the most developed countries suffer the most of this corporate greed. They need our engineering skills to invent stuff but soon as it is supposed to go in production then we are not important anymore.

The big question here is (as always): When is enough, enough?

Plus I hate it that they always explain away using the worst fallacies (energy-costs, labourcosts, resources etc...). It's about time some of these corporations go away! Its about time that WE say: produce in China?... then STAY in China! And keep your crap there!

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Re: British People

> Instead of being proud of being native and upholding high quality standards.

Or bankrupt. Yeah, leftist dreams of "MUH PROTECTIONIST COUNTRY WILL WIN AGAINST EVIL CAPITALISTS"

> produce in China?... then STAY in China! And keep your crap there!

This has been written on a 2500 GBP modem sourced from a British Supplier. Or maybe not.

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JLV
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Re: British People

> Instead of being proud of being native and upholding high quality standards.

There are what, 190+ countries in the world? Taking just the 34 members of the OECD, do you mean that each one of those countries should produce its own... cars? computers? planes? operating systems? walkmans?

As regards employment laws, if your skills are not useful to your employer and the only reason they keep you are laws against laying you off, that is not a good situation to be in, long term. Especially not in our industry.

FWIW, some folks I know who've lived in Japan have expressed great surprise at the number of make-work jobs that are found there. Office tea ladies being a stereotypical case.

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Holmes

Re: How odd-

Ouch and...

At one point I was impressed by Ricardo's equations. He essentially argued that specialists should be treated as profitable insects, not human beings. As equations, they seem mathematically sound, even though a lot of the conclusions of his economic theories seem crazy. Now I'm convinced the equations must be bogus, too.

We need new economic theories that deal with the only REAL scarcity that we ALL share. Time. Yes, it's hard to value, because we fundamentally don't know how much we have, but in the end, it's only valuable thing any of us actually does have. Also, we can't put dollar values on the memories we create with our time. Nevertheless, how we used our time in this world is the real metric of the value of our lives.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: How odd- Sounds like my career at IBM

As someone who works for IBM, I utterly loath hearing this. There is so much opportunity to be productive here and seeing people squander their (and the company's) time in this way appals me.

I'm not talking about people catching up on the news at lunch or ordering their kid a birthday present between conference calls, but if you're wasting your days away you need to change roles or find some way to get motivated. Its true that the screwing around with pensions, selling off a lot of our offices and a lack of improvements to pay and other conditions has ripped the soul and motivation out of a lot of IBMers (notably in the UK, other Europe IMT's aren't as bad from what I see - not sure for other IOTs), but if you're just sitting around until your target retirement age you're wasting valuable years of your life and needlessly making yourself unhappy.

I've been in IBM 5+ years and there is an insane amount of opportunity to be useful here - seize it.

<rant>

To give some examples:

If you work in a sales/pre-sales/partner-support role, or manage a team who does, pick up the bloody phone and call one of the organisations we've not spoken to for 2+ years because the sales reps have moved on ... and listen to them. Then follow up. Or pull the PMR list for your customers/products that closed a month ago and call to check the customer is happy. Go to a happy customer and work with them to get a reference case for their solution. See if they want to present on their experiences at an IBM event.

If you're not willing to do that, or its not applicable to your role, there are loads of other things you can do that might fit your role. As a techie, go download and install a product you've never worked: set-up a demo system of some Tivoli product or go through the WebSphere Application Server training material. Get VMWare Certification added to your IDP and go do a VCP course. Or go do an RHCE. Or Install AIX and set-up some WPARS. Learn about the API for Sametime and write a bot that tells people what's on the lunch menu for canteen in their office, or recommends healthy stuff for mobile and work-at-home staff. Whatever floats your boat. Just go do it.

If you're in marketing, please, for the love of god do some bloody marketing. Figure out a way to sponsor an IBM user-group, set-up some exec briefing dinners, work out ways you can sensibly blow the entire co-marking budget with our channel. Go use the competitions technology and attend some of their events so you can see where their and our strengths are.

Etcetera ad nauseam.

... and for the redditors in IBM:

TLDR: There is way too much opportunity here for you to bitch about being bored. Stop wasting your and IBM's time and do something about it.

</rant>

... I better get to my 11AM call.

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Re: British People

Japan has 4.9% unemployment. Can't be all bad.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: British People

"Or bankrupt. Yeah, leftist dreams of "MUH PROTECTIONIST COUNTRY WILL WIN AGAINST EVIL CAPITALISTS"

So what? Isn't it about TIME that we PROTECT our own people from poverty and despair? I don't give a fuck whether you call me a communist pig or a capitalist monkey. As long as I have a meaningful job that I'm happy with and a decent income to live my life the way I want it!

Besides some folks who DO care have proven time and time again that producing in the UK doesn't automatically translates into expensive products. E.g. Raspberry Foundation.

"This has been written on a 2500 GBP modem sourced from a British Supplier. Or maybe not."

For your information MY Raspbery Pi is build in the UK! I specifically bought the UK-build version from Element 14 instead of the crappy chinese one from RS. As for my modem it's a German product (or at least from a German company). Again a very good product of which I am very happy with. I used to have crappy chinese modems too. Glad to have gotten rid of those buggers. They couldn't keep up with any decent torrent (too many connections brings the buggers down) this one works great!

And yes, that Level One ADSL2+-modem costed a bit more then the equivallent SMC one. But the grief you got with the latter isn't worth the cash that you save.

So stop following the corporate propaganda who will say anything to justify their greed.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: How odd-

Former optical engineer Hu Niu said he read El Reg from cover to cover and decided to resign immediately.

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Anonymous Coward

Wow they are lucky

Here in the UK they use the Balanced Score Card (BSC) or something similar.

First they give you an impossible task, then when you cannot complete it to their satisfaction (which is always a moving target) you get a not met on your quarterly (or even monthly) review.

Then they send you on training, which never happens or is useless.

Lastly you are deemed not to have improved and sacked.

Oh and they don't care what the law says so if your pregnant, disabled etc... then they give you tasks that you are expected to do that normal staff would not be asked to do.

If your firm introduces a BSC or something similar (with Not Met, Met and Exceeded as targets spread over 5 or more areas) they are out to get rid of you :(

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Re: Wow they are lucky

It's not a nice thing to happen. I experienced it myself a few years ago and it wasn't pleasant... suddenly my best was no longer good enough after 12 months so they started moving the goalposts, telling me I had to improve or go bye-byes. How does one improve when they keep raising their so called standards?

The fun things that can happen when your team leader and then line manager decide to leave for no real reason and HR take over running your department...

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Unhappy

Re: Wow they are lucky

Later on you find that the company has gone, along with the bunch of slimy directors who have, somehow managed to keep their golden hellos, golden goodbyes and golden nice to see you, paid daily of course.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Wow they are lucky

@ AC 07:35 At one large company I worked for that was openly called "managing someone out of the business" in meetings at director/management level.

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Re: Wow they are lucky

Or maybe they did have a reason. They saw the what was coming down the pipe and decided to get the hell out while the gettin's good.

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Re: Wow they are lucky

Sooo...

Is it safe to say that a BSC is a pink slip for unmotivated employees?

I seek new employment within minutes after my boss's beheading here in the US. Only bigger hint that I may not fit is when the next project doesn't have a name.

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Re: Wow they are lucky

"Managaing someone out of the business" is also known as "constructive dismissal" at legal proceedings.

It can be a VERY expensive undertaking for any company which proceeds along those lines.

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Re: Wow they are lucky

More like a way to demotivate employees so you can hand them a pink slip or force them to quit.

Thankfully in civilised countries there are laws against that kind of thing.

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Meh

This isn't very new really.

It used to be that if you lost your management/professional role at a big Japanese company, they would essentially put you in an office and have you do nothing all day. It was called something like "staring out the window".

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Re: This isn't very new really.

presumably in the Japan of several years back you would either take the hint and leave, or put up with it while drinking yourself to an early grave.

this sounds like the old way with a bit more prod behind it.

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Holmes

Re: This isn't very new really.

I hear France Télécom does the same thing, at least in some cases. Unless workers stressed out by privatization choose to defenestrate themselves.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: This isn't very new really.

I hear France Télécom does the same thing, at least in some cases.

For the same reasons. Between unions and employment law it's extremely difficult to lay people off in France, especially those who are officially classed as "fonctionnaires" (translates as "civil servant" but that doesn't even begin to cover the job protection aspect) which covers a lot of France Telecom staff. When layoffs are necessary it is a legal requirement to consider the 'social status' of the candidates; laying off a married person could cause hardship to a whole family, so the ones who have to go first are the smart, mobile, single folks that you really need to keep, you likely have to retain the ones who are just keeping their chair warm until retirement.

Even if a layoff is possible the company could end up paying 2 or 3 years salary in a lump sum + retraining, etc. Shifting the "chair-warmers" to an out-of-the way job where they can't do any harm could well be the cheapest and least-damaging approach for the company in the long term, crazy though it seems.

Of course, it also means that no-one wants to hire staff in an uncertain economy, since they know they'll be stuck with them if things fall back into recession. You can't get that through the heads of the shop stewards, though, no matter how high youth unemployment soars. Until France drags its employment laws out of the 19th century it isn't going to improve, looks like Japan has a similar problem.

Ah well, here come the Chinese.

Unless workers stressed out by privatization choose to defenestrate themselves.

It's got damn all to do with privatization, more to do with increasing competition. State monopolies have a hard time competing with the likes of Free and EasyJet.

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Meh

@AC 09:35 - Re: This isn't very new really.

Wrote :- "so the ones who have to go first are the smart, mobile, single folks that you really need to keep"

Single people are smarter than married ones? I never knew that.

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Re: This isn't very new really.

That was my first thought on reading the headline--it's nothing new. I strained to remember the exact expression, but then found it online... "madogiwa zoku", literally "window-seat gang/tribe". This has been going on since the economic downturn in the '90s.

Check out Kiyoshi Kurosawa's "Tokyo Sonata" for a really good film exploring similar themes (particularly the loss of a job and how central having one is to Japanese sense of honour/self-worth/identity).

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Anonymous Coward

Re: This isn't very new really.

Broadly correct on France. The "big company" I mentioned earlier had offices in France. By offices/A business they'd acquired. Upon the "letting go" of the last France based IT bod he explained he wasn't fussed about being let go. For the first 6-12 months french unemployment benefits (or whatever it's called) cover (or did in circa '05/06) your entire salary. I'm sure it was a year. Meaning you don't immediately start defaulting on mortgage and car payments etc.

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Devil

Re: @AC 09:35 - This isn't very new really.

Single people are smarter than married ones?

Not necessarily of course, but you miss the point. "How much personal hardship will firing this or that person cause" is the wrong question for a struggling business to ask; "how much loss of required skills will firing this or that person cause" is a much more pressing one.

If it seems heartless to fire people based solely on how much value they have to the company, see it this way: if a faltering company is forced to choose between sacking assorted gifted employees along with the expendable or keeping them all, and then goes bust as a result of either loosing valuable skill or collapsing under the weight of its payroll, how much good will it do to any of its employees – not to mention the economy at large?

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Anonymous Coward

Re: @AC 09:35 - This isn't very new really.

> Single people are smarter than married ones?

smart, mobile, single : three separate and unconnected adjectives (the clue is in the commas)

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Anonymous Coward

Re: This isn't very new really.

For the first 6-12 months french unemployment benefits (or whatever it's called) cover (or did in circa '05/06) your entire salary. I'm sure it was a year.

Close, it's half salary for two years, unless you're over 55 when it is 5 years. Since you'll pay a lot less tax on half salary, especially if you have kids, the net effect on take-home pay is less than half. You can also expect a tax-free lump sum of roughly one month's salary per year of seniority. The latter isn't an exact legal requirement but the unions are likely to make it difficult to offer less.

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@xperrioni Re: "wrong question for a struggling business to ask"

The thing is, it's not the business that asks the question. The law sets out the criteria, the business doesn't have much choice (apart from trying to find ways around the rules). This situation is a result of all sorts of political compromises over the decades whereby the ruling classes of France made a comfy life for all of the workforce in return for the ruling classes being left alone to do the ruling.

Changes will be forced into the regulations of the system, but the system will be the same. The be-all and end-all of French political life is not business but "La douce France".

And don't knock it until you've tried it.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: This isn't very new really.

I used to teach in a large Brazilian college (private but with lots of fiscal incentives). Whoever disagreed with the faculty dean or with the rector was "transferred" to another department. Usually for CS teachers that means teaching word&excel to the humanities' courses, or getting an office in the last floor of a building with no central AC or elevators. I guess other industries have similar techniques.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: This isn't very new really.

A certain Irish Telco has a whole division dedicated to easing out people who don't want to go. I can't remember the euphemism they used for it.

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browses the web and reads books all day...

Where can I get this job?

Apropos of which, didn't GM (or one of the other big US car makers) do something similar to redundant workers to whom they didn't want to pay severance deals?

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Coat

Re: browses the web and reads books all day...

> Where can I get this job?

It's taken:

http://www.dilbert.com/fast/2013-08-09/

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Thumb Up

Re: browses the web and reads books all day...

Skilled IT workers put in a room with computers and web access with no assigned task? I'd be running a startup on company time within weeks!

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Facepalm

Re: browses the web and reads books all day...

...which would mean that the company owns all the intellectual property and revenue you generate. If you had personally banked any of this money you could be arrested and face a prison sentence.

Stick to facebook and adult friend finder ;)

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Re: browses the web and reads books all day...

Perhaps you are thinking of the way carmakers avoided laying people off (I don't remember exactly how it worked, if it was reduced pay but no actual work required, or what), even though it cost them money, so that when it was time to start producing a new model they had a trained workforce ready to hit the ground running, and ultimately spent less than if they had to start from scratch.

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Re: browses the web and reads books all day...

The employees were probably in that room for a reason....

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I am not sure why the solution to having clever people who don't have all the skills you currently need is to sack the clever people. Why not give them the opportunity to learn the skills you need (they are clever people, clever people are good at learning) instead?

It has been ages since I cared enough to check the figures but doesn't it cost something like 3 times as much to recruit someone as to retain an existing staff member. Use some of the £150,000 (assuming an averagely paid engineer) and spend some of it one retraining.

Why is this not obvious?

Rosie

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Why is this not obvious?

Obvious means something different to middle-managers and bean counters.

They apply the same logic to administrative work. Replace an office admin by a self-service web-based tool, and they think that they have 'saved" the admin's salary and reduced headcount. It completely escapes their notice that they are now paying engineers 3x the admin's salary to do their own admin work, and probably less efficiently. Then the managers feel they have to organize an 'offsite' meeting to discuss why productivity has fallen, wasting yet more time and money.

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FAIL

Retrain engineers to software development...

GUI designed by engineers? No thanks.

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Re: GUI designed by engineers? No thanks.

As opposed to designed by??? I'm all for Cleartype fonts everywhere but give me 1980's icons and menus or give me death. XFCE rules!

Actually FVWM2 rules but it's just too much effort to resurrect my old self-modifying pointer position learning functions.

GUIs are not getting better, they just seem to get more designed to blend into a pretty picture. Computer screens aren't for admiring, they're for navigating about and that's easier if the different parts are easily discernible i.e. they clash and look ugly.

P.S. this is a nice icon.

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Windows

Photocopying

Same logic as getting school teachers to do their own photocopying instead of having a reprography assistant - to save money.

That was a proposal from one of Gove's gang, but I can't find the BBC News page mentioning it mysteriously.

The tramp: a lot of the lads on White Diamond round the back of Aukinleck House could do with being paid to surf the Web all day

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LDS
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Re: Retrain engineers to software development...

GUI designed by designers like Win 8 one, or GMail? No, thank you. At least engineers knows something about ergonomics, designers just think that every time they need to do something different just because it looks "cool".

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Re: Retrain engineers to software development...

I remember sitting in on a software dev meeting where we were being shown a new insurance system by one of the engineer/developers.

He was going through the options and got to one of the many selection points and he said "Okay at this question you have to type in X1 for yes or X2 for no!"

We asked why they user couldn't just type in a Y or a N.

He paused, cogs were turning like crazy in his head, then replied with a frown, "Hmmm well I suppose they could!"

As a result of that meeting we spent a lot more time with them making 'suggestions'.

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Flame

The management definition of "Obvious" is: Something that aggressively moves the needle on those KPI's that are feeding into the "performance related pay package"!

Everything else is "Wasting resources".

It does not matter what hiring costs "the business", what does matter is that HR gets rewarded for "attracting new talent" and manglement are similarly rewarded for "reducing headcount". The same process happens with "new customers" vs. "existing customers". To succeed in middle management one has to be stupid as piss and follow the KPI's wherever they lead.

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Re: Retrain engineers to software development...

Not many people realise that Stonehenge is merely a fence designed by the first design department.

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Anonymous Coward

I read that there is a massive pay difference between the old-style salaryman contracts, and more recent ones.

retain older staff and it has to be on those terms and pay no matter what the job. Get rid of the old middle ranker and if you need more staff later you've already saved a bundle.

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