CSR in Japan and the concept of Yoi‐Shigoto

CSR and sustainability in Japan and the concept of Yoi‐Shigoto by Prof. Yingyan Wang, Keio University.

Professor Yingyan Wang of Keio University offers fresh insights from the Japanese concept of Yoi-Shigoto on how firms can leverage their organisational structures to foster a CSR-oriented attitude among their employees.

CSR in Japan and the concept of Yoi‐Shigoto by CoBS Editor Guragam Singh.  Related research: Commitment to sustainable development: Exploring the factors affecting employee attitudes towards corporate social responsibility‐oriented management, Wiley. With kind acknowledgements to Prof. Hirokazu Kono, Keio Business School, and Prof. Yingyan Wang, Keio University.

And just as well, for there is nary a business today that can afford to skirt the issue and still hope to make it big – and stay there. From leading luxury houses producing goods of basic hygiene, to social entrepreneurship firms focused on the idea of the triple bottom line—people, planet, and profit—social media is rife with eulogies of the sustainable kind.

Yet, at the other end of the spectrum, this platform of the 21st century also provides for fiery discussions and ugly debates at the slightest hint of corporate malfeasance. And perhaps rightly so, for there is increasing acceptance of the fact that corporations have a duty not only to their shareholders, but also to other actors whom they engage with—employees, suppliers, governments, and civil society to name a few.

Developing such a progressive-looking view is important for it provides a source of competitive advantage, with such increasingly common practices as customers looking for ways to buy ethically, investors considering not only the personal profitability of their financing but also the environmental, societal, and governance (ESG) impact of their fiduciaries’ decisions.

CSR under the scanner

Until about the last decade however, researchers typically focused on a bird’s-eye view of CSR, rather than go into the nitty gritty by putting organisations under a microscope to examine them on an individual level. As such, these studies showed that the perception of CSR by the employees—considered by far the most valuable asset of an organisation—played a key factor in determining organisational commitment, employee satisfaction and loyalty, perceived organisational support, and organisational pride.

Yet, organisations have failed to leverage CSR properly in order to engage with their employees, without whom such practices will meet with little success, for it is ultimately the employees who pitch in their time and effort to meet these organisational goals. Moreover, this could largely stem from the fact that organisations don’t know how to inculcate a pro-CSR attitude among their employees. Yoi-Shigoto might help.

We the people

Prof. Yingyan Wang, Keio University, offers fresh insights from the Japanese concept of Yoi-Shigoto on how firms can leverage it for CSR.

Existing research suggests that these employees can be grouped into three types—committed, indifferent, and dissident—on the basis of their attitude to CSR. This does not seem surprising. Not even identical twins are equally alike. As such, it stands to reason that employees—who potentially come from varied backgrounds and consequently have diverse experiences—may be as different as chalk and cheese.

In what can be considered a tribute to Maslow—the American psychologist who created the eponymous hierarchy of needs that tries to explain human goals—is the fact that involvement in CSR research is driven out of a yen to satiate these needs.

As such, by examining the ways in which employees identify with and engage in their companies’ CSR missions—those that showcase corporate commitments to CSR as an extension of their core business—and understanding the dynamics of Yoi-Shigoto and organisational hierarchies in a 73-year-old Japanese Fortune Global 500 company, Prof. Wang shines the light on how firms can set the ball rolling on motivating employees towards CSR and cement their—and consequently the firm’s—commitment to sustainable development.

In doing so, the study draws attention to a quintessential trait that one might associate with the Land of the Rising Sun: Quality. This hallmark of Japanese management was appropriately summed up in the formal mission of the company—‘strive to contribute to the creation of a future where the aspirations of the people can be fulfilled.’ This is where Yoi-Shigoto—meaning high quality work—is most relevant. It refers to work that is not only beneficial to society but also useful and valuable for customers and partners—all this while also proving to be a worthwhile challenge. In short, Yoi-Shigoto is a manifestation of Corporate Social Responsibility.

Yoi-Shigoto and CSR: With great power comes great responsibility

Prof. Yingyan Wang, Keio University, offers fresh insights from the Japanese concept of Yoi-Shigoto on how firms can leverage it for CSR.

Prof. Wang’s work on the influence of Yoi-Shigoto analysed data from a diverse pool of more than 800 employees to study various factors that form the environment in which the employees work. As such, the study focuses on hierarchical position, the distance that arises out of this corporate ladder, and what sort of support the employees perceived to be getting to achieve CSR goals.

The seniority of an executive symbolises the authority and resources placed at their disposal. In this light, it can affect the value of ownership they have towards the work that they do. Theory also posits that people try to associate themselves with groups that enhance their feeling of prestige.

Given how responsible organisational behaviour provides a competitive advantage to firms—and consequently such benefits as increased employee motivation, cost savings, and customer loyalty—senior management, who are in a better position to understand and appreciate these advantages are more naturally inclined towards identifying and engaging with their firm’s CSR-oriented mission than their fellow junior colleagues.

This is not to say that junior employees are not responsible towards their firms’ responsible commitments. They just express it differently. It is hard to challenge the status quo. As such, they have a reasonably strong incentive to associate themselves with their superiors who act as role-models and, as seen above, are more oriented towards CSR. Additionally, a sense of such an association to the seniors’ group can magnify feelings of self-concept—the idea that allows a person to answer the crucial question of ‘Who am I?’. On the contrary, it does not make a dent in the seniors’ armour, for they are accustomed to working with people at different rungs of the organisational ladder and are, regardless, expected to be highly committed to the company’s CSR paradigm.

Completing this trio is whether the rank-and-file perceives the management as walking the talk in valuing employee contribution towards organisational goals. It is also about whether the powers that be throw their weight behind the employees to kindle a desire in them to boost their efforts. This stems from the understanding that successful leadership is about being a guiding light for the entire organisation. To this end, and in line with the Yoi-Shigoto concept, frequent and high-quality exchanges between the senior and junior employees will precipitate positive reciprocity from the juniors as regards engaging in socially motivated behaviour. As such, employees take on positive opinions about the firm.

Salvation lies within

Yoi‐Shigoto in Japan - a stepping stone to CSR.

So, how can firms build their version of Yoi‐Shigoto? For starters, they could take a leaf out of Japan’s book. Given that Japanese society is highly collective, firms operating in societies that prize individualism could try to adapt such a model to suit their own needs. And promote shared socially motivated attitudes and behaviour.

Higher management also needs to lead from the front and act as role models in the workplace. A good example of such stewardship comes from India and Ratan Tata, who pledged about USD 65 million from the Tata Trusts in the fight against COVID-19. Following this, Tata Sons, of which Mr Tata is Chairman Emeritus, pledged double the amount. Continuing along these lines, it is also imperative that a culture of support exist in a company when junior employees wish to undertake CSR goals. This could include supporting employees wishing to take time off of working hours and engaging themselves in the company’s CSR mission or simply recognising employee goodwill initiatives internally and/or externally, such as on social media handles.

Moreover, there is a need for effective interaction between junior and senior members of the organigram. To reach this aim, firms need to bridge the gap between the identification of CSR opportunities and engaging with them. While the former may exist in regions where the firm has area offices—where working for a large responsible firm could give a person a higher social status, and thus the motivation to engage in such activity—lack of support from HQ might not allow this drive to be carried out.

As such, modern corporations—already taking into consideration factors such as environment, gender, race, ethnicity, and access to opportunity in both their internal dealings and community outreach programmes—have to introspect to see what sort of changes they must make in order for their commitments to reach their full potential and provide them with long-term success – the Yoi‐Shigoto way.

Yoi‐Shigoto and CSR in Japan, by Professor Yingyan Wang, Keio University.
Prof. Yingyan Wang

Learn more about the Council on Business & Society

The Council on Business & Society (The CoBS), visionary in its conception and purpose, was created in 2011, and is dedicated to promoting responsible leadership and tackling issues at the crossroads of business and society including sustainability, diversity, ethical leadership and the place responsible business has to play in contributing to the common good.  

Member schools are all “Triple Crown” accredited AACSB, EQUIS and AMBA and leaders in their respective countries.

The Council on Business & Society member schools:
- Asia-Pacific: Keio Business School, Japan; School of Management Fudan University; China; ESSEC Business School Asia-Pacific, Singapore.
- Europe: ESSEC Business School, France; IE Business School, Spain; Trinity Business School, Ireland; Warwick Business School, United Kingdom.
- Africa: Stellenbosch Business School, South Africa; ESSEC Africa, Morocco. 
- South America: FGV-EAESP, Brazil.


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