About 2 weeks ago (long before the spike in COVID-19 cases in Tokyo) my company switched to a 100% mandatory work from home policy. Being an international company, I’m happy to say that they got on this as early as they could and are doing their best to protect the health of their employees. However, my girlfriend works for a traditional Japanese company and they do things much differently.
As the cases continued to spike around the world and thousands of people continued to die, everyday my girlfriend would leave in the morning and get on a crowded Tokyo train. She would commute to her office and do work on a computer from her desk, and conduct meetings with her colleagues in person.
This infuriated me.
I even thought about asking her to quit her job. We couldn’t live a fancy life, but I could support us on my salary until things calmed down. However, I knew she would never say yes to that.
I knew that no one in her department would speak up and request to work from home, because if people in power (managers) were working from the office, there is no way regular office workers would feel comfortable working from home. There are office politics in Japanese companies and Southeast Asian companies that are unlike anywhere else in the world.
What did I do?
I decided to write an anonymous letter addressed to the company and send it to every customer service and management email I could find on the company’s website. However, my Japanese is nowhere near good enough to write a convincing letter. I wrote the letter in English and had it professionally translated into Japanese.
This is what the letter said:
Dear [Japanese company name],
The most important person in my life works for you and everyday you make her from your office, you needlessly risk her life.
There is a reason why large companies in Japan like Google and Bridgestone have enforced a 100% work from home policy, and that reason is COVID-19. Despite what some people in Japan may think, the Coronavirus is far from over. The governor of Tokyo even urged people to stay home to help prevent future deaths.
If this is serious enough that the government is asking people to stay home on the weekend, why are you asking you employees to commute on crowded trains 5 out of 7 days in the week? In Italy, a country with an aging population like Japan, the mortality rate is over 10%. Would you take a 1/10 chance of your loved one dying, just so they could work in your office? (even though the majority of your work and meetings could be done online).
In Japan, the mortality rate is around 2-3%. Personally when I think about the love of my life, even a 1% chance of death is too high a risk to take. I hope that you can look at the people you love and ask yourself if you are willing to take that risk for them. If the answer is no, please don’t risk the life of the person I love either.
Please make it mandatory for your staff to work from home. Don’t urge them. Don’t “highly suggest” they work from home. Close your office and move all your workflows online.
Don’t use the excuse that you allow and urge your employees to work from home, and it is their choice. You know that your employees will not work from home unless they are forced too. The Japanese take their work seriously, and if no one in power (managers) is working from home, no regular workers will work from home either. We live in a technological age of instant video calls and file sharing. There is no need for the majority of your workers to commute to the office.
Please make the right decision and keep your employees safe. Companies can bounce back from a recession, but over 30,000 people will never bounce back from the Coronavirus.
I’m begging you. Don’t wait until one of your employees dies. Due your duty as their employer and protect them.
Here is the letter in Japanese:
What happened in the end?
The day that I was going to send it, my girlfriend told me that her company finally decided to implement a work from home policy. Thank God for that. I am happy that her company smartened up and that I didn’t need to send this letter. But instead of wasting this letter that I had translated, I thought I’d make this letter available to anyone who was in a similar situation.
Please feel free to use this letter and adjust it as you see fit. Make sure to replace the name in the first line to the name of the company you are addressing (it is set to a generic address line).
Most importantly, please stay home and stay safe everyone.