The Baileys’ problems
Fred Bailey is the managing director of Kline ; Associates’ Tokyo office, and have been for the past six months. He was notified about the assignment seven months ago, and him and his wife, Jennifer, made the decision together to relocate to Japan for three years.
After moving to Tokyo, Japan and living there for six months the couple is experiencing problems with adjusting to the culture.
Fred are facing three different major problems in his work as managing director for the firm. The first problem he met was conducting a meeting with his subordinates. His experience of the meeting was that it was unsuccessful, because he laid out his plans for the future directions of the company office, and did not receive the desired response from his Japanese colleagues. His second problem has been with a significant prospective client. He met with the company five months ago, and in his American direct and concise way introduced his company’s proposal straight away and expected the Japanese to respond immediately, the Japanese did not.
The third problem Fred has encountered has been with one of his employees. He asked Watanabe, a promising Japanese research associate to prepare a report on the client company in order to prepare a better proposal for them -as it turned out Watanabe thought the task too big for him to finish in a week, but did not utter his concerns about this to Fred when he was given the task, nor in the week following even though he realised he would not be able to finish it in time. It seems that Fred also is frustrated over the fact that he does not speak the language, and it therefore makes it hard for him to communicate with his co-workers and clients.
Jennifer is having different problems -she is finding it difficult to go about her life the same way as she did in the United States. She finds it hard to perform household tasks, and also has trouble filling her time, Fred works ten to 16 hours a day, she does not speak nor look Japanese and therefore finds it difficult to involve herself with people and in the community.
The reasons for the Baileys’ problems
The first thing that hits when reading the story of Fred and Jennifer is the little time and effort that was spent on preparing them for how living and working in Tokyo would be. The company has prepared for them to go, providing them with a house, adjusted salary to compensate for higher living expenses, renting of their house in the United States -all the materialistic and practical aspects of the transfer. They have not considered the cultural impact the move will have on Fred’s ability to do his job, and on his and his family’s ability to adjust to living in a new country. Japan is a very different country from the United States. Not only do they speak a completely different language; the non-verbal communication differs from what the Americans are used to, time and space orientation is different, Japanese have a different belief system, pattern of thinking, self-image and set of values to those who are common for people in the United States (Elashmawi & Harris 1998).
All these factors affect the ways the Japanese live and work, and for an American it may feel very different from America. The family had very little knowledge of Japan before they moved. They did not go through any cross-cultural training, did not visit Japan before they went nor talked to anyone who could tell them what it was going to be like. It is commonly believed that pre-departure training is essential for an expatriate’s ability to succeed in a new environment, both on the job and privately -and that this training should involve the whole family going through cultural awareness programs, language classes, instruction on practical everyday matters; and maybe even a visit to the country ahead of the move(Adler 1997, Dowling, Welch and Shuler 1999).
In Fred’s first meeting with his subordinates he introduced himself and his ideas. He did not realise that the Americans sat with the Americans and the Japanese with the Japanese -this should ring a bell with him, he might want to consider the reasons for this and seek to integrate the groups with each other. He also might have wanted to spend time having his employees introducing themselves to create the feeling that he considered them all as part of a team. His main objective was to plan what actions were to be taken in order to achieve the plans that he had made. And he went straight to the point.
For the Japanese this approach is considered very direct, it is normal for them to establish relationships in the beginning of a meeting and not rush to the point (Elashmawi & Harris 1998). They are there for information, which they can digest and discuss and then meet again to decide upon. They are not prepared to make any commitment in a first meeting. Another reasons why the Japanese may have reacted in the way that they did, is the fact that Fred laid out his goals for the office. It is important for the Japanese to be a part of a group, and when an individual does things for himself, they may experience it as uncomfortable and unnatural.
A lot of the same things are true for Fred’s meeting with the prospective client. He went straight to the point -the Japanese considers it important to spend time in the beginning of a meeting to harmonise with each other, even if this means simply sitting quietly together. After his presentation he also did not allow for the Japanese to sit quietly and react to the information, which is natural for them; he rather tried to rush them into a decision. This is not normal for the Japanese, they were there to gather information, and will not be willing to make a commitment after only one meeting. The fact that after five months, still no decision has been made, does not necessarily mean that they will not sign with Fred’s company; it simply means that the Japanese take time to consider, discuss and feel about decision before they are made -and they may take a long time.
Fred’s problem with his employee not finishing the report and not letting his superiors know that he would not be able to can have been caused by a number of factors. Firstly Watanabe was singled out, and appreciated for his individual performance, this is hard for a Japanese employee to accept, as he is more concerned for the recognition of the performance of his work team and company than for being praised as an individual. Secondly Fred may have violated Watanabe’s personal space, by leaning forward when talking to him, and walking over to him.
This may have been experienced as intimidating by the Japanese. Also the Japanese are not inclined to say no, or they indirectly say no. The pause Watanabe made before his response may have been an attempt to feel how Fred would react to a refusal of the task, or a way to indicate to Fred that he was unsure of his ability to perform it. Lastly the Japanese have a great respect for authority and seniors, and may not be able to object to a task laid upon them by someone higher up than them in the hierarchy. Watanabe is not either familiar with the American way, and if he was he may have uttered his concern about the task to begin with, knowing that his superior would listen to his thought and try to come up with a solution with him.
The fact that Jennifer is not settling in may also affect Fred’s attitude towards his work. Having a spouse at home who is uncomfortable with the situation is said to have enormous impact on an expatriate (Adler 1997), even if he does not realise it himself at the time. Dowling, Welch ; Shuler (1999) even refers to a study conducted on some Asian countries including Japan, which found a high correlation between a spouse’s ability to settle in and the expatriate’s ability to perform his work.
Because Jennifer does not have the opportunity to work while Fred is on his assignment, she spends a lot of time at home and alone. This allows for her a lot of time to think about how things are different from home. Even if she did not work in the United States, she still had a routine and a network at home -and now she has trouble even filling her days; it is natural for her to feel frustrated and confused. Jennifer also has to interact with the community in a different way than Fred. Things she easily could do in the United States, like grocery shopping and interacting with people, feels hard in Japan because of the language barriers and the fact that things simply are done differently.
The solutions to the Baileys’ problems
Right now the Baileys’ situation is not looking too good; Jennifer is unhappy, Fred feels like he cannot do his job. They may just be experiencing culture shock. The U-Curve cited in Dowling, Welch ; Shuler (1999) suggests that it is normal for a family moving abroad to experience a feeling of negativity, homesickness and crisis after the first exciting phase of a move has passed and things are getting into a normal, everyday pace; and before one is completely used to the differences from one’s home country and has come to accept them. A suggested solution to culture shock is simply giving things time. However, this may also not be the case. The problems Fred and Jennifer are experiencing may be of a calibre that is not easily brushed away as a temporary culture shock, and solved by time.
Fred should contact his superiors in the company and consult them with his problems. It would be a good idea for the company to provide some cultural-awareness training for the family now, if they wish for them to stay on assignment. Adler (1997) claims that even if there is no time to provide pre-departure training, there is always time to provide information and training whilst on the assignment. The subject of language lessons may also be considered, and even though Japanese may take time to learn, some knowledge of it may give the couple more self-esteem when interacting with the Japanese. The company could also set the Baileys up with another expatriate family who have successfully settled in Tokyo; they may provide valuable advice and even friendships for both Fred and Jennifer.
Another person to get in touch with could be the manager who had the assignment before Fred -he might have some input on how Fred should go about dealing with his co-workers and clients. The couple can also study literature on the subject of Japanese culture -as this might help their understanding of the Japanese culture and their acceptance of it. This can eventually help them settle in and enjoy their stay in Japan.