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Lifetime Employment in 21st Century Japan: Stability and Resilience Under Pressure in the Japanese Management System

Matanle, Peter and Matsui, Kenji (2011) Lifetime Employment in 21st Century Japan: Stability and Resilience Under Pressure in the Japanese Management System. In: Emerging perspectives in Japanese human resource management. Wirtschaftpsychologie (15). Peter Lang , Berlin and New York , pp. 15-44. ISBN 978-3-631-62098-4

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Abstract

Despite repeated predictions of its demise, lifetime employment remains the core institution of the Japanese management system, and regular employment in a large and prestigious organization continues to be the aspiration of the majority of Japanese younger people. Al-though organizations have continuously adapted their systems to developments in the do-mestic and international political economies, prompting debates as to the nature and sig-nificance of such change, assertions that lifetime employment is disappearing, or has even collapsed, have thus far proven incorrect.

In this chapter we root our analysis in the social constructionist assumption that all em-ployment relationships are produced and reproduced as a continuously negotiated settle-ment between the past, current, and anticipated requirements of employers and employees. Thus, the persistence of lifetime employment depends upon both the willingness of em-ployers to offer it to current and prospective employees, and the extent to which current and prospective employees wish to accept that offer. However, we also assume that all meetings of employers’ and employees’ needs are to some degree context dependent, and it is therefore necessary to frame our analysis within an understanding of the environment within which lifetime employment rests.

After reviewing the key literature, we will pull together statistical data since the late 1980s to analyse job tenure in the post-Bubble era, as well as provide a summary of qualitative research from the same period, to argue that the institution of lifetime employment shows little sign of weakening; that from the employer’s perspective the rationale for maintaining it continues, and that it still provides the best means available within Japan for the satisfaction of employees’ needs over the course of their working lives. We base much of our dis-cussions around analysis of labour throughput mechanisms, including legal constraints on organizational flexibility, and we end with the conclusion that lifetime employment remains stable, despite the pressures that Japanese organizations have encountered in recent dec-ades. In this way, the Japanese management system demonstrates its fundamental strength and resilience throughout the long period of Japan’s postwar expansion, and its subsequent globalization and post-industrial transformations.

Item Type: Book Section
Copyright, Publisher and Additional Information: This paper is a post-review corrected version, and is the final version prior to publisher proofing. Readers are advised to refer to the published paper for accurate citation and ref-erencing. If you are unable to access the published version, then please contact the author at: p.matanle@sheffield.ac.uk.
Keywords: permanent employment; retirement age; gender discrimination
Institution: The University of Sheffield
Academic Units: The University of Sheffield > Faculty of Social Sciences (Sheffield) > School of East Asian Studies (Sheffield)
Depositing User: Dr Peter Matanle
Date Deposited: 13 Jan 2012 13:30
Last Modified: 05 Jun 2014 03:28
Published Version: http://www.peterlang.com/index.cfm?event=cmp.ccc.s...
Status: Published
Publisher: Peter Lang
Refereed: Yes
URI: http://eprints.whiterose.ac.uk/id/eprint/43581

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