When 24-year old Hidekazu Nishikido got promoted at his staffing company, it bummed him out. Forget the spiffy title and the salary bump, the promotion obligated Mr. Nishikido to spend more time at work and this meant less time with his girlfriend. So he asked his bosses not to promote him anymore.
Mr. Nishikido’s behavior is not unusual in modern Japan, where young employees increasingly reject promotions so they can remain in positions that carry few responsibilities.
Until recently, the trend seemed unthinkable in a country where top companies enjoy hard-earned reputations for quality and glossy consumerism is a way of life. And it comes at a precarious time for Japan, since its aging population relies on young adults to maintain productivity and drive its economy.
Workforce experts call these workers hodo-hodo zoku, the “so-so folks,” but many choose their words more pointedly. “They’ll ruin Japan with their lax work ethic,” labor consultant Yukiko Takita told the Wall Street Journal. “They’re supposed to be the leaders of the next generation.”
What could cause such a phenomenon? Chiaki Arai, who has written extensively about hodo-hodo, believes it has roots in the nation’s economic woes of the last decade. During that painful downturn, young Japanese saw the dreams of older generations vaporize amid job cuts and corporate reorganizations. They became skeptical about the value of hard work and inclined towards short-term pleasures like a quiet night at home.
A happy irony of hodo-hodo is that women now have more opportunities to advance in Japanese companies, which are traditionally dominated by men. Nothing frays social customs so much as a down economy.