For my final project, I’ve decided to compare business ethics in Japan versus the United States. I’ve always been interested in the Japanese culture, particularly on the business side, so I’m looking forward to what I find. It seems like the Japanese culture is typically viewed as very respectful and reverent (example: the business card exchange protocol in the textbook), whereas in contrast, Americans can be seen as pushy and rude, so it will be interesting to do a side-by- side comparison of two very different cultures.
Before we get started in comparing the two countries, here’s a brief definition of corporate ethics in order to get a decent idea of what we’re looking for here. “The study of proper business policies and practices regarding potentially controversial issues, such as corporate governance, insider trading, bribery, discrimination, corporate social responsibility and fiduciary responsibilities. Business ethics are often guided by law, while other times provide a basic framework that businesses may choose to follow in order to gain public acceptance”.
The general corporate culture of the United States can be drastically different than that of Japan’s. Your typical middle-class American with an office job places a lot of value in hard work, doesn’t have a lot of patience for long/frequent meetings, and places their personal life/family before their job. Work is work, and once the standard 40 hour week is over, many of us completely forget about our work obligations during office time. The customer and the customer service are seen to stand on equal ground with a mutual respect, co-workers are often friendly with each other and will go out for drinks after work on occasion, and there is a careful balance of friendliness and professional courtesy with upper-level management.
Outside influences (media, ratings, and legal ramifications) place a substantial amount of pressure on corporations to be “environmentally responsible”, whether its executives share that belief or not. In the United States, when a person/representative states that they can accomplish something (a task, producing a certain quantity, etc.), there is usually [realistically] a 50-70% chance that they can actually follow through with said item, and rarely to 100% satisfaction even when the initial quota has been met. Part of this trend seems to be stemming from the general American attitude of bold, unapologetic confidence (and perhaps some egotistical traits, too) and a hunger for financial and statistical success.
The Japanese corporate culture is indeed an interesting one. Certain things that we as Americans may not place much value on can have a substantially more significant meaning in the Japanese culture. While the United States may be a strongly individualistic culture, the Japanese are definitely more of a group-oriented culture. Customer satisfaction is paramount, the Japanese take great pride in their work. Silence is golden; if you don’t have anything important to add to the conversation, it’s best not to say anything at all. Business cards are seen as an extension of one’s personality, and card exchanges are a highly revered tradition.
The privacy many US employees may receive from their cubicles is practically non-existent in Japan; most Japanese office rooms consist of rows of desks with a supervisor positioned at the head of the room. Going out for drinks with colleagues is considered an integral part of work; while communications are kept very formal during the day’s business hours, sharing a drink with a coworker allows employees to truly open up about their thoughts and is said to help build professional relationships in the organization. While a hard-sell strategy is a prominent method in the United States, a gentle and persuasive attitude is the best way to conduct business in Japan. Several corporate ethics issues that have arisen in Japan in the 21st century include:
While it’s apparent that the United States and Japanese business cultures and corporate ethics are quite different, I think both corporations in both countries could learn from each other.