What Japanese work culture can teach us about productivity

It’s important to note that higher productivity doesn’t, as a rule, beget better work. The term itself is too often occasioned as the sole reason behind a firm’s success or failure.

It’s important to note that higher productivity doesn’t, as a rule, beget better work. The term itself is too often occasioned as the sole reason behind a firm’s success or failure.

Adrian Shephard is a productivity consultant that spent 24 years in the corporate belly of Japan. There’s plenty to unpack from the observations he accumulated but presently the alternative way employers view efficient work stands out to me.

Monotony is a frequent feature of any worthwhile work disparaging session.  Monday through Friday you go in and perform the same task over and over and over and over again, 264 days a year-routine can be overwhelming. Even if your job happens to be your calling, 264 days is a lot of time dedicated to doing anything. The salve to this is one that simultaneously breaks the curse of tedium and improves the efficiency of the company at large. It’s a matter of perspective. There’s this philosophy observed by many workers in Japan called: kaizen.

Kaizen more broadly translates to “improvement.” But when applied to business it is defined as the continuous engagement in activities that improve all functions. Whether a CEO or an assembly worker, repletion, attention to detail, and care are the antecedents to efficiency. Kaizen also teaches you to appreciate the value in even the smallest amount of improvement. An improvement that isn’t evaluated by its degree is an incentivizes routine. Shepard writes: “there is always a yearning to achieve more. I’ll continue to climb, trying to reach the top, but no one knows where the top is.”

The productive differences that separate Japan from the west extends beyond the workplace. Shepard found that even the way many Japanese workers conduct themselves and organize their time at home to nourish a focused energized mind. For one thing, in Japan, food, although prepared carefully, is more often seen as fuel. The dishes presented serve particular functions. Shepard adds that despite the bounty of dishes that accompany a standard dinner, he never leaves the table feeling full. Eating to be satisfied as opposed to feeling full has made Shepard significantly healthier: “I almost never have a cold anymore and have more energy than I did in my 20s.”

What we put in our body isn’t the only or even the most profound effect on our mental well being. Our surroundings also play a major role. Because space is so limited in Japan, citizens must exercise extra prudence when determining what they should and should not keep. This makes for generally tidier living quarters. Even corporations make a point to dispose of all unnecessary things. “Freeing up space is liberating, and once done can provide a big boost in productivity.”

Bathing before sleep is much more commonplace in Japan. According to a study previously reported on by Ladders, habitual bathing comes with a slew of mental health benefits.

Shepard corroborates: stating ever since adhering to a consistent bathing regiment he sleeps like an angel and reaps the benefits.

CW Headley|is a reporter for Ladders and can be reached at cheadley@theladders.com.