The 'new Dentsu': how the Japanese ad giant is paying more attention to the wellbeing of its employees

There is a culture amongst the older generation of Japanese workers for staying loyal to a company for decades.

Dentsu Inc. is embarking on a new project to improve its workplace culture and prevent ‘Karōshi’, the Japanese term for overworking to death.

It is trialing a new open-plan office layout that is painted in warm colors and has quiet rooms for meditation and more communal spaces for discussions, in its 47-floor skyscraper headquarters that overlooks the Sumida River in Tokyo, Japan.

While these open-plan office layouts and facilities are not new in companies around the world, being charged for overworking its staff after an employee logged 105 hours overtime in a month before committing suicide in 2015, spurred Dentsu into taking action.

According to Shusaku Kannan, the managing director and spokesperson for the corporate communications division at Dentsu Inc, the holding company has been carrying out a basic plan for reforming its workplace environment after being formally charged for the death in July 2017, which resulted in a 500,000 yen (£3,380) fine two months later.

The reforms included a wide range of initiatives, like flexible working hours and a 'leave by 10pm' policy, which placed priority on the physical and mental health of employees.

He adds that these wide-ranging measures are not limited to preventing excessive work hours, but also include reforms of office environments and information and communications technology (ICT) infrastructure, as well as a variety of other systems as they are designed to create a “new Dentsu”.

“For example, robotic process automation (RPA) has been adopted in various operations, and a company-wide no-work day has been introduced as an “Input Holiday” program, giving employees an extra day off each month in addition to paid holidays and public holidays,” Kannan explains to The Drum.

“Efforts like these have been characterized as innovative reforms in Japan by diverse media. Dentsu has issued several news releases explaining the progress of its reforms.”

Retaining and hiring talent

There is a culture amongst the older generation of Japanese workers for staying loyal to a company for decades, which has benefited Dentsu and its clients over the years. While the newer generation tends not to display similar loyalties, Dentsu is not unduly worried about attracting and retaining talent.

That is because it not only has systems in place that allow employees to choose how they work; it has also set up programs that offer maximum support for guiding the career paths of individual employees.

“Numerous training courses, seminars, and online training programs both inside and outside the company are made available to employees so they can develop their skills,” explains Kannan. “Dentsu also has a study-abroad program and a training program that lets the trainees study with employees who work in the offices outside of Japan.”

“Dentsu is home to a large number of diverse and specialized employees, so there are also opportunities for them to realize their aspirations and ideas though countless projects and a workplace environment that promotes teamwork.”

After joining Dentsu, new employees are offered introductory training, a mentor program, and periodic training suited to their position and number of years in the company, such as management training and programs that follow a certain number of years after they join. In addition, training and seminars covering various specialized areas are also provided in-house on a regular basis, so employees can take advantage of the many opportunities for self-improvement and participate in all kinds of training programs if they want.

“Dentsu in Japan recruits employees through three methods. First, like the majority of other companies in Japan, Dentsu hires a big group of university graduates once every year,” Kannan adds. “Secondly, it recruits experienced career-track employees from other companies all year round and thirdly, it also hires career-track employees on a contract basis.”

Promoting diversity and equality in the workplace

The promotion of diversity and equality both internally and externally, is equally important to Dentsu and its led by its Dentsu Diversity Lab inside the company.

For example, to raise awareness of diversity and human rights, Dentsu has a human rights slogan and environmental slogan contest, for which it invites employees and their families to create slogans and awards the best entries. The outstanding slogans are featured in posters that are created in collaboration with art school students and put on display inside the company.

In addition, Dentsu has established working conditions that facilitate diverse ways of working among employees, along with childcare and nursing care systems, and a paid holiday system.

This is part two of The Drum's visit to Dentsu Inc.'s headquarters in Japan. Read here for part one, which takes a look inside Dentsu's Team B.

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