Tips on Asking for a Raise in a Japanese Company

Working for any company either locally or abroad, any working individual aspires to progressively go up the career ladder and in effect, increase their value as an employee, literally and figuratively.

However, this isn’t something so easily done, especially when working for a foreign company overseas. And in Japan, where there’s a unique structure of work and culture in the workplace, concerns regarding career progression may not be as easily aired out as employees would like to, especially those with experience in working for a Western (or Western-influenced) company.

Tips on Asking for a Raise in a Japanese Company
Credits: Wikimedia Commons

Things to Know About Asking for a Raise in a Japanese Company

And while the task may not be as straightforward as one would hope it would be, asking for a raise in a Japanese company is not entirely impossible for employees, even for foreign nationals, according to a report by the Japan Times.

Here are some tips you need to consider when asking for a raise from your company in Japan:

  1. Consider the type of employment arrangement that you have.

For permanent employees (seshain), understand that your compensation will be governed by the structure that applies to all other seishain employees. You will be slotted into a specific level in the pay structure based on your seniority, and any salary increases or bonuses will be based on what is negotiated by the company union, and they are not likely to be large.  

Meanwhile, contractual employees may find it crucial to bring up the subject of a raise when their contract is ready to be renewed for the upcoming year.  

  1. Keep in mind your company’s budget cycle.

Companies that operate starting April 1 will have budgets that are usually set by late February, and there won’t be any flexibility to add new costs until the following fiscal year. In this case, for better chances at a raise, employees can bring up their suggestion in January or earlier with an aim toward having the change take effect in April.

  1. Understand that the role of your direct supervisor is different in the Japanese setting.

In contrast to other countries, it’s the human resources department and not the direct supervisor that coordinates compensation in the company overall in Japan, and this means that they won’t necessarily be up for negotiating.

  1. Consider your Japanese manager’s experience.

Since most managerial level employees have gone up the ranks under a system, which allowed them to get to where they are now, it’s quite easy to say that lobbying for a salary raise is not among their competencies, because they understand that this is not how the system works. Even so, other managers would find it difficult to give positive feedback to non-Japanese subordinates, because they worry that every word of praise they utter will later be brought up as a reason justifying why the employee thinks they deserve an increase.  

  1. Give your company some leeway before bringing up the subject of a raise.

In general, being calm and factual without bombarding your supervisor with data seems to be helpful, as well as waiting a reasonable amount of time (two years or more) before broaching the subject of a raise. Furthermore, a change in job responsibilities or a change in family situation can also present a graceful opportunity to bring up the subject. Some, particularly in smaller firms, reported that excellent performance was recognized and rewarded as part of the employees’ annual performance appraisal.

Negotiation is an important skill at work. Whether you decide to ask for a raise or not, do note that doing so will set you apart from the rest of the crowd, which is not necessarily a good thing if you’re an employee in Japan. Understand that the Japanese strictly apply themselves to the system that governs them – as in the case of a company. However, given the right timing and circumstances for your appeal, getting a raise is not at all impossible, but as the old saying goes, remember to “play the cards that you are dealt with.”

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