How to quit your job in Japan
Seems easy enough, right? Think again. Here are Kevin's rules for quitting a job in Japan.
For most, quitting a job might seem like a matter of going to your boss and saying those two beautiful words: I quit.
However, in Japan, it can be a bit more complicated and there are some things you should know if you're ever in that particular situation. Here are my rules for quitting a job in Japan!
How work works in Japan (or used to!)
In order to have an appreciation of why quitting a job is such a big issue in Japan, it's important to explain a bit about the history of work in Japan.
For a long time, it was unheard of to change jobs in Japan, and full-time employment meant staying with the company until retirement.
Now, with the changing economic landscape, this is all changing, but companies and older executives may still retain the same sort of thinking that an employee should be thinking to stay with a company for, literally, ever.
I remember having a conversation with a client who was having difficulty with his workplace and really did not want to stay there. However, when I raised the idea of potentially changing jobs he balked and looked almost offended!
Being able to say that you've worked for the same company your entire life is considered ideal by some in Japan, and it's something to remember to respect when you plan to quit.
Now let's get back to the nitty-gritty of how to quit your job!
Rule 1: Get your timing right
As with all things in business, timing is key. In many companies in other countries, a two-week notice would be acceptable, but this would likely be considered too short in Japan.
If you're working in a position that is easily replaceable (no offense) like in a convenience store in a major city or a line position in a factory, you might be able to get away with a month's notice, but your manager will not be too pleased about it.
I've changed jobs a few times in Japan, for various reasons, and I've usually given between 2-3 months notice before leaving the job.
Something else to consider when planning to break the news of your planned departure is if there's something else happening around the same time.
It might sound great to quit just before the new year but Japanese companies typically have a lot of work to complete before the end of the year. Your manager may not be thrilled to hear that he may be a man down during the busiest time of the year.
Rule 2: Know why you're quitting (or maybe just what you plan to say)
It's good to prepare a solid reason for quitting the job, even if you really just want to tell the manager "It's because of you!"
For ladies, getting married is traditionally a great "reason" to quit: it's traditionally acceptable, with the longstanding practice of women being the stay-at-home wives and their husband being the breadwinners (of course this also too may be changing in Japan).
For men, I've heard reasons for quitting including physical illness, having to attend school in another prefecture (I've been in this situation myself), or changing industries.
Whatever the reason, just know that you will almost always be asked, and it's good to have your reasons ready for when the time comes.
Rule 3: Don't say too much, too quickly, to too many people!
In past companies in other countries, I always found it beneficial to speak with other coworkers and team leaders about my thoughts regarding the resignation, to get their opinions and support.
However, I had a really unfortunate incident in a Japanese company where, after sharing my thoughts about possibly resigning from the company, I was called into the manager's office the next morning and had to explain why I was dissatisfied at work.
From my perspective, I was less than pleased at the coworker who I had spoken to, who was apologetic but also did not seem to really grasp why it was an issue that he had shared the information with the boss. In some companies in Japan, employees consider themselves parts of a family, with the boss at the top, and it would be completely normal to share information like this with the boss.
From my manager's viewpoint, however, I was in the wrong since I had spoken about this to my coworker, rather than directly to my manager. I was supposed to speak to him directly first and foremost and release the news to my coworkers at an agreed-upon time.
You will want to make sure that your manager knows about your plans before anyone else gets a chance to ruin the "surprise"!
Rule 4: Be ready to negotiate
It's a very real possibility that your manager will not accept your resignation in Japan, and getting the blessing of your manager is a big deal with quitting a company.
You want to make sure that you leave the company on good terms so that you're able to secure future job references in case you want to continue working in Japan, and it's just good business etiquette to respect the process, whenever possible.
If you've communicated your plans to leave the company with your manager with sufficient notice (the 2-3 months I recommend), it probably means that you'll have enough time to postpone your last day of work without any serious ramifications on your future plans.
Your manager will remember this "generous" act on your part, and you'll be able to rely on his good word if and when you plan to secure a new job in the future.
To sum up, this is my last golden rule for quitting
After you've received approval and know when your last day of work is, finish strong.
Don't go around gloating about your plans to go to Bora Bora, at least not while you're still at the office. Your soon-to-be-former coworkers are having to say goodbye to a member of their workplace, which is tough enough without you dancing around and being unprofessional about it.
Follow the rules I've recommended for a smooth transition, and let your coworkers remember you for the consummate professional that we all hope you are!
Kevin is a professional writer with experience in music, education, news media and entertainment. He graduated from the University of Toronto with a degree in English before moving to Japan for work. He's lived all over Japan, spending time in Kanto, Chubu, Kinki and Okinawa.
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