Sour Apples – Part III
Looking back on it, it seems like I’d worked for an entirely different company. I loved my job, liked all (or most…) of my coworkers, I’d just gotten a raise, and got to call myself the “English Division Director” as well. How could things possibly have gone so sour from here? It all started with A-san’s untimely departure from the company, sometime in late January/early February.
One day, not long after A-san had arrived at work, the company president called her out for a one-on-one talk. Maybe 10 minutes later or so, we could all hear the president’s voice as he screamed something out in anger at her. It was such a sudden and short outburst that we had no idea what he’d said. We only knew that it was an angry yell. A-san returned from the “meeting” a few minutes later, and perhaps an hour after that, quietly informed me that she’d be quitting in two weeks. Later, she told me about what had happened during that meeting.
During a company drinking party a week or so earlier, apparently A-san had made some kind of off-hand joke. Although I was at that drinking party, admittedly I don’t remember much about it. Anyway, after that, a new hire joined the company – a Chinese college student who was studying in Japan and would do part-time translation work for the company. The president went around doing individual introductions – when it came time for A-san’s introduction, he repeated the joke that she’d said at the drinking party. A-san wasn’t too happy about this, but instead of making a scene on the spot, she e-mailed the president later and asked if she could talk with him privately, which became that fateful meeting. She said that she didn’t appreciate using the joke like that – its something she’d said after work in the company of friends and with a little alcohol present – she certainly didn’t want it to be someone’s first impression of her during work hours. The president’s response was along the lines of “But, you said it. That’s the kind of person you are. I’m not wrong.” He then revealed the fact that he knew she’d been to a job interview lately. “Going to an interview means you plan to quit right? So tell me when your last working day is.” A-san hadn’t planned to quit, but being cornered like that, she felt like she had no choice but to give her two-weeks notice. The president then berated her for her working habits – coming to work at 10AM and leaving around 3:30-4PM, saying that he was a great guy and had it been any other company, she would have been long since fired.
The incident left a sour taste in my mouth for a multitude of reasons. Aside from A-san being completely right about the inappropriate use of the joke, she hadn’t been planning to quit at all. As for the job interview, she’d seen a job posting that caught her eye, sent in her resume on a whim, and was called for an interview. It didn’t mean she was secretly plotting to leave the company. To this date, it remains somewhat a mystery as to how the president found out about this interview. It also irked me that A-san was being called out on her working habits – specifically, leaving early – when these are the very conditions that were agreed upon when she started working. As the mother of two young girls, she should not be expected to stay and work late at the cost of raising her children. Before the drinking party even, the president and my supervisor had called me out privately to talk about my working condition when I was still doing the insane amounts of overtime – they began to ask about A-san and if she was really working or not. They seemed to want to blame my being overworked on her leaving early. I tried to stress that she was doing everything she could and without her the English “team” would have really been in hot water. They didn’t seem to believe me though, and this incident only served as proof.
However, the more pressing concern was the state of the English Team. With the hire of the Australian guy in February (let’s call him…I dunno, Curly), it felt like we’d finally established a true team, but A-san’s departure was going to set us back again. Curly was going to be of a tremendous help both to the company and to me, but as a new hire I didn’t expect him to be able to smoothly take over the jobs A-san had done for the past few years right off the bat. Luckily, the volume of work wasn’t as bad now, but we were still going to be terribly understaffed.
So I thought, but within 2-3 days of A-san’s announcement that she was going to quit (forcibly…), the president and my supervisor told me that they’d found a replacement. A Japanese girl, who was married to an Australian guy and had, by their accounts, superb English. I was happy that the English Team was going back up to 3 members, but the president and my supervisor seemed almost too happy about it. The president was nearly patting himself on the back for finding a replacement so soon, and the attitude between both of them was that this was the ideal situation. While having another native speaker and a Japanese girl with strong English abilities was indeed a good set-up, I couldn’t forget about A-san’s situation so easily.
The Japanese girl came into the company, and as they’d said, she did indeed have superb English. So much so, that she could call me “pussywhipped” when in one conversation I described my duties around the house. Much like Ms. Americanized, she had a way of just shocking us with statements that, perhaps if they weren’t coming from a Japanese girl, would be regarded as somewhat normal, but given the context, only serve to blow one socks right off their feet. Once, when the three of us as the English Team went out for some after-work drinks, me and Curly were talking about some of the girls (er, women) around the office and sort of ranking them, as many men are prone to do (yes, ladies – if you work somewhere where there’s men, you have been ranked at some point in time. And don’t pretend like you haven’t ranked us guys either…), this girl brings up one of the female Chinese college students who happens to be very well endowed, and just casually said “I’d go to bed with her!” After recovering, I had to teach her the proper terminology, “I’d hit it.” It’s tempting to want to call her Ms. Americanized 3, but as I understand it, she gets most of her casual English from her husband who is Australian, so that name doesn’t work. I’m just going to call her Ms. Shocker, because even after years of living in this country and teaching junior high school kids, even though I thought I’d heard everything she never failed to floor me a few times with something completely new.
Ms. Shocker though, told me something somewhat disturbing, and not in a good way. She said that she’d sent in her resume to the company in November, and as she hadn’t heard anything, she assumed she didn’t get the job. …November! If you will recall, it was late November/early December when the workload increased and I had to work a lot of overtime just to keep my head above water. November! Even if she couldn’t do translation, I can think of a bajillion other things she could have done which would have helped out tremendously. Why now? Why did it take A-san’s untimely departure for them to finally hire Ms. Shocker? This would be my first indication of the company’s human resources policy – rather than hire enough people to do the job, understaff and expect the workers to work long hours to cover the staffing deficiencies.
As its still a somewhat small company, it would be understandable if they just didn’t have the financial resources to bring in new people. However, that didn’t seem to be the case. Even though many other departments were still understaffed, new people were brought into the company for brand new divisions – divisions the president wanted to start. While not bad ideas, why not work on solidifying the current divisions before going off to add new ones? At the time, we only had one computer programmer – for a company whose business is online retail, one would think that having a sufficient team of computer programmers would be a priority, but it was not. Also, the president announced that he was starting up an izakaya-style drinking bar – again, something of his own plans. Ignoring all the startup costs associated with that, it was hard not to think that all the time and energy devoted into getting this drinking place off the ground – especially considering the salaries of part-time workers to work there – could have been better spent making our company better, including hiring new workers on our end.
That would become a very common complaint with the president over the next few months – that he just did whatever he wanted, which often meant leaving current plans in a half-assed state in order to go start a new project. Right before I quit, he went and bought a company dog. He’d announced that he wanted to raise a dog and/or cat at the company back in December – and keep a blog about the pet’s growth. The announcement was met lukewarmly at best, with most people giving an “are you serious?” reply of “Eh?” Despite this, he went out and got the dog this past August anyway. He didn’t ask if anyone had allergies or phobias of dogs, and no thought or planning was put into who would actually take care of the dog during work hours, or about the potential nuisance having a dog barking and running about an office would be.
If this were the only problem, it might have been manageable.
The incident with A-san, as it would turn out, was only the first of many to come.
Over the next half-year, many people would have incidents of their own – with many people quitting the company, and those who didn’t quit stayed on bitterly until they could be in a position to quit. By the time I left the company, looking around the office, there were only a handful of people who’d been there longer than me – and I’d only worked there for a year and a half. The turnover rate was astounding, to say the least.
In April, one Japanese lady’s father died. She asked for time off to grieve and make funeral arrangements. The president asked her to produce proof that her father had indeed actually died. …I can’t imagine the bad taste it would leave in one’s mouth to be required to prove that your father died in order to take time off from work. The lady’s contract just happened to be ending later that month – although she had been planning to renew, very understandably she decided to let her contract end there.
One girl decided to quit her job in order to go back to college and pursue her studies. However, she offered to continue to work for the company on a part-time basis. I’m not sure of how this came about, but at some point during the talks of how they would work this out, the president told her “You’re not worth the 900 yen (part time salary)”. Needless to say, she left the company and never looked back.
One day, the president calls the Korean guy out and asks him why he doesn’t do more overtime. The Korean Team pretty much had no reason to do overtime whatsoever – they were getting everything done on time, early even. But for this guy, he especially had good reason to want to go home – he had a Japanese wife and a newborn baby (only about 1 year old at this point) back home. He told the president that, of course, he wanted to go home and see his daughter and help out his wife. The president’s response was “You know, babies don’t actually remember anything until they’re about 3 years old, so its okay if you are not there.”
Our sole computer programmer was also accused of not doing enough overtime. Which was odd, because he was – although his work time “officially” ends at 6:30, he left the company around 8:30 to 9PM, sometimes as late as 10PM. He was also getting everything done that was asked of him, which was especially remarkable considering he was the only computer programmer for an online retail website.
A Chinese college student was sent to China for an overseas business trip. As the trip covered the weekend and a holiday day, she is supposed to receive vacation time to compensate for having to work on weekends/holidays. The president didn’t give her enough compensation vacation to cover all the days of the business trip. After having a talk about it, he finally did give her her vacation days, but did so bitterly, adding that since it was her home country she probably enjoyed herself and saw friends and ate good food, so that shouldn’t be considered a work day.
I’m sure there were more incidents that I’ve forgotten, or wasn’t included in the gossip loop on. All of these people are good people and hard-workers, so it was very disheartening to see them treated this way. Even if the president remained friendly and jovial with me, I found it difficult to be friendly with him, knowing he’d said and done these things to good people whom I considered to be friends. More than that, I couldn’t help but to wonder if these things were happening to the people around me…when would it start happening to me?
Unfortunately, that answer would come sooner than I’d hoped.