In the busiest city in a country famous for working employees to death, Tokyo Workers hopes to help people find the work/life balance they desire.
Once upon a time, I was offered a job by a large, prestigious Japanese company. As we were discussing the terms of the contract, I asked the interviewer (my potential boss) how much overtime I could expect. “Oh, we don’t really do overtime here,” she said, which sounded great to me. However, also sitting in on the interview was a rank-and-file worker from the department, who chimed in with “Yeah, we usually only have, like, two hours of overtime each day.”
As you can see, Japanese companies aren’t always completely upfront about how much overtime work a job requires. So in order to present a more accurate picture of their working environments, the organization Tokyo Workers films the Tokyo offices of major Japanese companies, in time-lapse, to see how late their interior lights are on.
▼ It’s past 10:30 p.m. when Toyota’s Tokyo office goes dark
▼ At 10:20, the majority of the office lights are still on at Sony (the central building in the video)
Tokyo Worker uploaded its first video in the spring of last year. About seven months prior, Dentsu, one of Japan’s biggest advertising/PR companies, had instituted a mandatory 10 p.m. lights-out policy, following the suicide of one of its overstressed employees. Tokyo Worker wanted to see if the company had made good on that promise, and sure enough, they had, as shown in this video of all the light’s blinking out at Dentsu just as the clock strikes 10.
▼ Plenty of lights still on at video game developer Square Enix (the top three floors) at 11 p.m.
However, Tokyo Workers’ goal isn’t necessarily to expose and shame companies that burn the midnight oil. The organization even admits that, all else equal, simply reducing working hours will have a negative impact on a company’s output. But what Tokyo Workers wants to do is close the gap between how much overtime work job hunters expect to do (based on information available to them before joining a company) and how much they’ll actually end up doing.
▼ The offices of manga publishing powerhouses Shogakkan (left) and Shonen Jump’s Shueisha (right), where a lot of employees probably aren’t getting home in time to watch the start of the late-night anime TV programming block.
▼ Two buildings owned by Kodansha, another publisher with strong ties to the anime/manga industry
The organization cites a late-2016 study by Japan’s Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare which found that 31.9 percent of college graduates end up switching jobs within three years, which is a startlingly high number for a country where lifetime employment with the same company was the norm just one generation ago. Through its videos, Tokyo Workers aims to give job hunters a better picture of the featured companies’ corporate culture, so that they can avoid jumping into a job they don’t understand the reality of and eventually quitting, forcing them to look for new employment and the company to find a new employee.
▼ A wide shot of Tokyo’s Tennozu district, home of JAL (Japan Airlines) and JTB (a.k.a. Japan Travel Bureau).
▼ Past 1 a.m., there are enough lights still on at the East Japan Railway building (seen on the right) that some employees probably won’t finish work in time to catch their last train home fot the night.
Tokyo Workers acknowledges that the connection between what time the lights go off and what time work stops isn’t absolute. Some office lights might remain on for security reasons, and in this digitally connected era, just because people aren’t in the office doesn’t mean they’re not still working. Still, it hopes that these candid videos will be of use in letting prospective employees know what they’d be getting into before they decide to sign an employment contract.