'Power harassment' by bosses gnaws at the back of workers’ mind

October 31, 2013


A 34-year-old man was often ordered by his supervisor at an office equipment sales company to dance buck naked before his colleagues when he failed to secure copier sales.

“We were not treated as human beings unless we achieved sales quotas (of four to 10 units a month),” said the man, who quit due to headaches he suffered from overwork and stress.

Today, it appears that his experience may not necessarily be an isolated case.

Labor ministry figures indicate that a growing number of workers suffer from physical and mental burdens brought on by superiors who abuse their positions of authority, called “power harassment” in Japan.

In fiscal 2012, labor bureaus around the country received more than 50,000 complaints about “bullying and harassment,” which became the top category, passing “dismissal.”

The 34-year-old man in Tokyo would begin his day doing mandatory push-ups and squats.

He kept calling small and midsize enterprises that his company had never done business with, desperate to make appointments.

“Enough for now,” they often told him in exasperation.

“Get your head out of your ass,” his supervisor once told him. “Don’t take your hand off the phone.”

The supervisor bound the man’s hand with tape to the receiver of his phone and kicked away his chair. He remained standing and making calls with the bundled receiver.

One night, the supervisor told the man to take his clothes off and dance on a desk.

“Asshole, you’ve sold nothing these days,” the supervisor said. “I’m gonna amp you up.”

At the supervisor’s order, the man danced, singing a song of a popular rock band. Thirty or so colleagues broke into laughter, and he laughed, too.

“It was not hard to be laughed at,” the man said. “It was much better than getting yelled at.”

Late at night, the man was often ordered to kneel in front of the supervisor.

“Why the hell can’t you get an appointment? Do you want to die?” the supervisor said.

“You can’t get anything done. Was something wrong with the way your parents raised you?”

The scolding continued until around 1 a.m. on some days.

The man, who joined the company in 2004, quit in less than five years. He previously worked elsewhere on a part-time basis for several years after graduating from university.

“I was able to put up with the abuse because I thought the way I was treated was the norm of society,” he said. “I was under mind control of sorts.”

Masaomi Kaneko, director of Shokuba no Harassment Kenkyujyo (Research institute on workplace harassment), said workers tend to suffer from harassment when they are assigned excessive quotas and told to quit if they cannot meet them.

“At such companies, long work hours go with the territory and human relationships become strained,” Kaneko said.

A man in his 40s faced harassment from his supervisor at an education-related company after he had refused his company’s suggestion to leave.

The man, who was a salesman, could not believe his ears when he was told not to attend a meeting for all members of his department in 2007.

New projects decided on at the meeting were all assigned to his colleagues. “Nuts to you,” he told himself in exasperation.

The man was first encouraged to quit the previous year. He would not comply because he liked his job.

“I felt as if the meaningfulness of my existence had been denied,” he said. “It was way harder to be robbed of my job than to be denounced.”

As if to add insult to injury, the supervisor told him to move to a desk for a part-time worker several meters from where his colleagues sat. He could not hear from that location what his supervisor was telling his co-workers.

When the supervisor noticed that he was perking up his ears to listen, he raised his voice an octave higher.

“Nobody knows who will move to that desk and when,” he told his subordinates in a warning to them. “It is not necessarily a seat assigned to him.”

The man felt demoralized and started to think about throwing himself in front of a train on his way to work. He eventually quit after being diagnosed as suffering from depression.

The man, who now works for a different company, said he beats up his former supervisor in his dreams.

“It won’t hurt him. It’s only a dream,” he said.

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The 34-year-old former worker at an office equipment sales company now works as a salesman at a different firm. (Shohei Makiuchi)

The 34-year-old former worker at an office equipment sales company now works as a salesman at a different firm. (Shohei Makiuchi)

  • The 34-year-old former worker at an office equipment sales company now works as a salesman at a different firm. (Shohei Makiuchi)
  • The Asahi Shimbun

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