Japan’s workforce is shrinking and has been for some time. In order to make up for a lack of employees, Japanese companies have been looking for ways to increase the productivity of their existing employees. But reforming work styles to focus on speed and efficiency goes against long-held work customs, which dictate that good results always take time to achieve.
While it hasn’t been easy for Japanese businesses to reframe their work ethos, Recruit Staffing (RS), a Recruit Group company focused on job-matching services, is leading by example. For the past several years, RS has researched ways to help Japanese companies come to terms with the need for speed. In 2013, RS started an internal initiative to prove that it was possible to produce great results within a limited timeframe by encouraging employees to work intelligently, efficiently, and energetically. The company united around the new strategy and dubbed it the Smart Work (“SumaWaku”) Project.
Each employee thoroughly examined their own work processes for ways to increase productivity while maintaining or reducing their standard working hours. By breaking down, analyzing, and sorting their work into individual tasks, many employees found that they could cut back on or eliminate time-consuming procedures. Salespeople, for example, realized that they could outsource administrative tasks such as data entry in order to spend more of their time and energy actually speaking with prospective customers and making sales.
RS improved the accessibility and security of the company system and released advanced communication tools to allow for more diverse work styles such as remote work. With these new capabilities, employee productivity improved dramatically—for example, traveling salespeople were now able to take full advantage of downtime between client visits.
RS also doubled-down on professional development opportunities that would encourage employees to practice and maintain productive habits. Interested employees could attend Globis University’s Graduate School of Management to further their industry knowledge and skills. And the company began offering “Morning College” classes before work where employees could focus on self-improvement projects and listen to lectures by prominent local figures such as Madoka Sawa, Microsoft Japan’s Technology Center Director, and Kosuke Minowa, a best-selling author.
Motivated and empowered by the new opportunities for professional growth, many employees participated in management training and began to apply the skills they learned to their daily work, becoming more efficient and taking more ownership of and pride in their contributions to the company.
Six years later, RS has irrefutably become more efficient and productive thanks to the Smart Work Project. Just between 2012 and 2015, sales productivity per hour improved by 6.6%, and the number of employees who opted into Smart Work training doubled. By reframing company work culture and evolving into a flexible, thriving business, RS has set an example for other Japanese companies experiencing employment challenges.
RS hopeshopes this success will inspire other businesses to adopt “Smart Work” and prioritize the growth and happiness of their employees to combat the effects of Japan’s ongoing labor shortage.