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Beyond Borders: Exploring Indonesian and Japanese Work Cultures


Let's take a peek into how people work in Indonesia and Japan. People in both countries value hierarchy and group harmony, but their work cultures are quite distinct. From the friendly team vibes in Indonesia to the careful decision-making dance in Japan, we're diving into what makes work life interesting in these two countries.


1. Hierarchy and Formality

Japan

Japanese work culture is known for its strict hierarchical structure. There's a strong emphasis on formality in communication and behavior, especially in work settings. For example, staff or subordinates must bow to their superiors. Even when giving stamps in a document for approval, hierarchy is important. Not only should the stamps be given in the right order, but they are also made as if giving a bow to higher-ups. The CEO's stamp should be upright, the next person in the hierarchy should tilt their stamp lightly, the next person should tilt more, and so on.


Instead of signing document, Japanese people use stamps hanko.

Indonesia

While respect for authority remains significant in Indonesia, the hierarchical structure is generally more relaxed than in Japan. There's a balance between formal and informal communication styles. It’s also possible to build close relationships within the companies and thus encourage employees to drop formalities to each other.


2. Work Hours and Overtime

Japan

Long working hours and overtime are common in Japan. There's a cultural expectation to demonstrate dedication through extended work hours, as far as making people avoid taking their paid leave and get off work only when the superiors get off first. However, due to the government's efforts to encourage employees to take days off, there has been a gradual improvement in work-life balance in Japan.


Indonesia

The workweek in Indonesia tends to be more standard, but overtime might still be expected in certain industries or situations. People can take their days off without facing social pressure. The minimum annual leave entitlement set by the government is 12 days for employees who have worked continuously for one year. However, many companies offer around 14 to 24 days to attract and retain talent.


3. Decision-Making

Japan

The decision-making process in Japanese companies is often characterized by a combination of consensus-building, hierarchical structures, and a meticulous approach to ensuring all relevant perspectives are considered. The "ringi" system is a common practice where a document outlining a proposed decision circulates among relevant parties for their input and approval. Each person in the hierarchy reviews and signs the document.


Japanese companies often take a long-term perspective in decision-making. Decisions are made with the future in mind, and short-term gains may be sacrificed for long-term sustainability. There is often a tendency towards risk aversion. Due to the deliberate process, it’s common to have lots of long meetings. It may take time to reach a decision as input from various levels of the hierarchy is considered.


Indonesia

Decision-making can vary but tends to be less formal. Although many companies are hierarchical, leaders often seek input from team members. Senior employees are typically involved in decision-making, and their input carries weight. While input from various team members is valued, decisions can be made more efficiently. There is usually a degree of flexibility and adaptability in decision-making. Companies may be open to adjusting strategies based on changing circumstances and feedback from the team.


4. Team Bonding

Japan

Team bonding in Japanese companies is often characterized by a strong emphasis on building harmonious and collaborative relationships among team members. Team members are encouraged to work together seamlessly and prioritize the collective success of the team. Team members regularly engage in social activities and team-building outings, such as after-work dinners (known as "nomikai"), “hanami" (cherry blossom viewing), and "bonenkai" (year-end parties).


Indonesia

Indonesian companies often foster a sense of community and familial atmosphere within teams. Building relationships that extend beyond professional settings is highly valued. It’s usual for the employees to follow each other on SNS. Some even follow their superiors too. They also like to bond over eating lunch together, company retreats, and events. Some companies hold fun competitions to celebrate important days such as Indonesian Independence Day or just follow trends on social media.


Indonesian coworkers eat lunch together.

5. Hiring

Japan

In Japan, hiring recruits follows a structured and formal process, typically during the annual recruitment season known as "shūkatsu." Companies, especially larger ones, often prefer hiring fresh graduates from universities, and the recruitment process involves multiple stages. Candidates submit detailed application documents, undergo written exams, and participate in rigorous interviews with various personnel, including HR representatives, managers, and potential team members.


The hiring process places a strong emphasis on assessing not only the skills and qualifications of candidates but also their cultural fit within the company. Successful candidates receive formal job offers, and the onboarding process typically includes an extensive orientation before officially starting their positions. Despite evolving employment trends, the tradition of seeking long-term commitment from employees persists, and initial hires may go through a probationary period.


Indonesia

Hiring in Indonesia involves a systematic process beginning with the announcement of job vacancies through various channels. Job seekers submit applications, which are then reviewed for shortlisting based on qualifications. Photos are usually included in CVs. Shortlisted candidates undergo interviews, possibly including assessments and reference checks. Successful candidates receive formal job offers, leading to the signing of employment contracts and initiation of the onboarding process. Many companies implement a probationary period for performance assessment before confirming employment contracts.


In contrast to Japan, Indonesia has a large workforce making many companies prefer to hire people with experience instead of fresh graduates. Therefore, many students do multiple internships during university so they have working experience. Switching companies mid-career is common.


6. Bonus

Japan

Bonuses in Japanese companies are typically provided twice a year, known as "Summer Bonus" (natsubate) and "Winter Bonus" (冬のボーナス or 冬期賞与, fuyu no bonus or fuyu-ki shōyo), and are based on various factors, including individual and company performance. The Summer Bonus is often paid around June or July, while the Winter Bonus is distributed towards the end of the year, typically in December. Employees may receive a fixed bonus or a percentage of their annual salary, and the bonus amount is usually stipulated in the employment contract.


Indonesia

Indonesian companies usually give 1-2 bonuses annually to their employees. Religious and cultural celebrations are significant in Indonesia so companies often provide bonuses during specific religious holidays based on their employees' beliefs. Islamic holiday is the biggest celebration as the majority of Indonesians are Muslim and thus, it is possible to receive a bonus during this period, no matter what your religion is.


Similar to the practice in many countries, Indonesian companies often provide a year-end bonus. This bonus is typically given at the end of the calendar year, often in December, as a way to acknowledge employees' efforts throughout the year.


7. Communication Styles

Despite the distinctive cultural backgrounds of Indonesia and Japan, there are shared elements in the communication styles. Both languages are considered high-context cultures, where individuals rely on context, non-verbal cues, and shared understanding. Both cultures place importance on maintaining harmony within the group, making people careful when addressing issues. However, in work settings, Indonesians tend to be more indirect, allowing for a nuanced balance between formality and informality. Expressing opinions is generally encouraged and respectful disagreement is usually acceptable.

 

While each culture has its unique flavor, both Indonesian and Japanese companies share a commitment to fostering collaborative environments, respecting hierarchy, and recognizing the importance of interpersonal relationships. Understanding and respecting these unique aspects of business culture in different countries is crucial for building successful and lasting relationships across borders. However, it's important to note that within each country, there can be variations based on industry, company size, and individual preferences. These comparisons provide a general overview of some common trends.


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