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The Competent Employee


WRITTEN BY: Culture At Work    


Cleaning the Van

American and Japanese college students were in the countryside spending long hot days replanting mountainsides after a forest fire. In addition to their usual work, each group was assigned daily chores back at the lodge.

Group 3 was responsible for cleaning the camp van every evening, vacuuming and polishing till it shone inside and out. It was tedious work, especially after a rough day of laboring on the mountain.

One day all the students stayed at the camp and didn't go out to work with the villagers. At 6pm, the senior male students broke out beer and cards and told the women to go cook and the groups to go do their chores.

The Americans in group 3 grinned and said, "Lucky us, no chores! We didn't use the van today." The head senior male student got up and in a fury shouted at them not to be irresponsible and to go do their job.

Angry, the Americans went outside and found the Japanese woman student in their group silently cleaning the van all by herself.




The Americans probably thought/felt:

  • Why clean the van when it doesn't need it? Stupid. Illogical. Make work. Waste of time.
  • Cleaning the van that thoroughly is overkill anyway -- who cares if a camp van is super clean and shiny every day?
  • Why are the men students sitting around making the women and American students work? Not FAIR.
  • Unreasonable expectations of hard labor.
  • Don't feel like a real member of this group.
  • Isn't this a day off?
  • He's belittling us, singling us out, punishing us, on a power trip.
  • If he's treating us like that, I'm not going to "behave".
  • If you don't agree with something it is okay to refuse to participate.
  • Japanese are rigid, stupid, arrogant (men), humiliatingly obedient (women).


The Japanese senior male students probably thought/felt:

  • Responsible for these American kids learning how to behave appropriately in Japan.
  • We had our turn at the bottom of the heap - our senior year is a time to enjoy a few privileges.
  • Everyone has their jobs, their roles. Women cook and clean. Men are responsible for the whole program.
  • Each group has tasks to do and it is important that they do it seriously and well.
  • Maturity means following form without asking childish questions.
  • Outward cleaning is connected to inner purity of motive, heart.
  • Japanese are doing more than their fair share of the work.
  • Americans are lazy and soft. Self-indulgent. Challenging authority when they are newcomers who know nothing.


The Japanese woman student may have thought/felt:

  • Important to do assigned work without complaining.
  • May have just expected Americans to show up and work.
  • Have to show Americans the right attitude, the right way to do things.
  • Quiet humbleness is the right attitude to take.
  • Didn't want to interfere with men's roles as leaders
  • If she was also unhappy with situation, then maybe she didn't want to instigate conflict with the leaders in front of the Americans.


In Japanese companies, employee are usually rewarded for:

  • Following form, following set process.
  • Majime - to have a serious demeanor when working.
  • Steady effort - never give up.
  • Thorough - dedicated to details.
  • Kaizen - to work at continuous improvement of own's self or company's product.
  • Work as part of a group - company goals are my goals.
  • Cultivate close human relations - warmth, trust, obligation.
  • Keep private life, opinions, needs and moods at home.





This page was last modified on Thursday, January 29, 2015 10:12:04 AM