Established in 1920, the consumer electronics giant Panasonic was at the forefront of the rise of Japan to the status of major economic power during the 1970s and 1980s (before 2009 Panasonic was known as Matsushita). Like many other long-standing Japanese businesses, Panasonic was regarded as a bastion of traditional Japanese values based on strong group identification, reciprocal obligations, and loyalty to the company. Several commentators attributed Panasonic’s success, and that of the Japanese economy, to the existence of Confucian values in the workplace. At Panasonic, employees were taken care of by the company from “cradle to the grave.” Panasonic provided them with a wide range of benefits …show more content…
In its first two years of operation, only 3 percent of recruits chose the third option—suggesting there is still a hankering for the traditional paternalistic relationship—but 41 percent took the second option.
In other ways Panasonic’s designs are grander still. As the company has moved into new industries such as software engineering and network communications technology, it has begun to sing the praises of democratization of employees, and it has sought to encourage individuality, initiative taking, and risk seeking among its younger employees. But while such changes may be easy to articulate, they are hard to implement. For all of its talk, Panasonic has been slow to dismantle its lifetime employment commitment to those hired under the traditional system. This was underlined in early 2001 when, in response to continued poor performance, Panasonic announced it would close 30 factories in Japan, cut 13,000 jobs including 1,000 management jobs, and sell a “huge amount of assets” over the next three years. While this seemed to indicate a final break with the lifetime employment system—it represented the first layoffs in the company’s history—the company also said unneeded management staff would not be fired but instead transferred to higher growth areas such as health care.
With so many of its managers a product of the old way of doing things, a skeptic might