Overworked by overtime

The View From Taft
Alvin Neil A. Gutierrez

Posted on August 09, 2017

I just recently came home from a conference in Japan, but what I brought home are not souvenirs, nor lessons from the conference. What I brought home were sighs of relief and the realization that somehow, we Filipino workers are fortunate.

During the five days that I was in Japan, I was surprised that rush hour there is not from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m. as it is in Manila. The tailend of Manila’s rush hour (given that there are no flash floods or mall-wide sales) is the start of Japan’s rush hour, which is from 8 p.m. to 9 p.m., and even beyond 11 p.m.! This is when trains are jam-packed with jaded, sleeping, middle-aged Japanese suits, who spend so many hours at work.

There is a Toshiba Service Center in Sagamihara City, where I stayed. As I passed by the Toshiba office at 11:30 p.m., I saw employees still at work at a time that Filipinos consider part of the graveyard shift. But what really made my jaw drop was seeing trains still peppered with men and women in corporate attire even on a Sunday. These Japanese suits got off at the well-known business districts of Japan.

In contrast, Filipinos who work in corporate offices usually enjoy one or two days of rest depending on the work week specified in their employment contracts. Not counting retail stores, restaurants, and BPO firms, I know of only a handful of companies that require their employees to work on Saturdays and Sundays.

The Japanese count the years they are employed by a company. Their long working hours are evidence of their loyalty to the company. In contrast, Filipinos tend to move from one company to another whether by choice (because of the attraction of higher pay or better career growth) or by necessity (because of the prevalence of five-month endo contracts, but that’s another story).

A good friend of mine who works in the restaurant industry enjoys only one rest day, which is neither a Saturday nor a Sunday. He often complains about missing out on weekend activities with his family. I had the same experience when I worked with a retail company. But because I value my weekends, I explored my options after six months, and landed an 8 to 6 weekday job.

I told my friend to explore his options such as conducting training. He finds my suggestion clever; however, he decided to stay on at the restaurant because he values the benefits he receives such as quota incentives, tips, and overtime and holiday pay.

Is it safe to say that we Filipinos in general are fortunate that we can have work-life balance? What does the typical Filipino worker value? Is it more time at work to earn more money for the family? Or is it more time with the family as long as the family can live modest and decent lives?

Let us all remember that long working hours do not equate to productivity. Japan is a special case though. The Japanese value continuous improvement or “genshi genbutsu,” which makes them highly advanced on this side of the world. Thus, toiling for longer hours as long as doing so contributes to the improvement of a product, a process, or a service is something ingrained in their culture and work norms.

In the end, what matters is letting every minute in the workplace count.

Those of us fortunate to enjoy the weekends have the opportunity to be recharged before facing a new week of deliverables, meetings, and deadlines. When we fail to get that R & R, we should ask ourselves, “Do I bring work home because I work so hard, or because I do not work smart?” We all have eight working hours in a day regardless of the skills sets we possess, our levels in our organizations, the industries we are part of, and the country we work in. Let us use our time wisely, because time lost is money lost. As Stephen Covey wrote, “The key is in not spending time, but in investing it.”

Alvin Neil A. Gutierrez is a DBA student of De La Salle University. He earned his Master in Human Resource Management degree as an AUSAID scholar from The University of Sydney Business School. He is also an Assistant Professor of the Ramon V. Del Rosario College of Business, where he teaches Personal Selling and Sales Force Management, Marketing Management, and Strategic Human Resource Management.