back to article Japan's unwanted IT workers dumped in 'forcing-out rooms'

Some of Japan’s biggest technology companies send certain employees to “boredom" or "forcing-out" rooms where they’re forced to undertake menial tasks designed to make them quit. A New York Times report detailed the experience of 51-year-old Sony employee Shusaku Tani who refused to take early retirement after his position at …

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  1. hplasm
    Devil

    How odd-

    The tasks these employees are forced to take on sound like a normal day in the office for a lot of UK staff.

    1. Nuke
      Joke

      @hplasm Re: How odd-

      Wrote :- " sound[s] like a normal day in the office for a lot of UK staff."

      Just like my job; I hadn't realised I was in a forcing-out room.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: How odd-

      Sounds like my career at IBM

      1. Shannon Jacobs
        Holmes

        Re: How odd-

        Ouch and...

        At one point I was impressed by Ricardo's equations. He essentially argued that specialists should be treated as profitable insects, not human beings. As equations, they seem mathematically sound, even though a lot of the conclusions of his economic theories seem crazy. Now I'm convinced the equations must be bogus, too.

        We need new economic theories that deal with the only REAL scarcity that we ALL share. Time. Yes, it's hard to value, because we fundamentally don't know how much we have, but in the end, it's only valuable thing any of us actually does have. Also, we can't put dollar values on the memories we create with our time. Nevertheless, how we used our time in this world is the real metric of the value of our lives.

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: How odd- Sounds like my career at IBM

        As someone who works for IBM, I utterly loath hearing this. There is so much opportunity to be productive here and seeing people squander their (and the company's) time in this way appals me.

        I'm not talking about people catching up on the news at lunch or ordering their kid a birthday present between conference calls, but if you're wasting your days away you need to change roles or find some way to get motivated. Its true that the screwing around with pensions, selling off a lot of our offices and a lack of improvements to pay and other conditions has ripped the soul and motivation out of a lot of IBMers (notably in the UK, other Europe IMT's aren't as bad from what I see - not sure for other IOTs), but if you're just sitting around until your target retirement age you're wasting valuable years of your life and needlessly making yourself unhappy.

        I've been in IBM 5+ years and there is an insane amount of opportunity to be useful here - seize it.

        <rant>

        To give some examples:

        If you work in a sales/pre-sales/partner-support role, or manage a team who does, pick up the bloody phone and call one of the organisations we've not spoken to for 2+ years because the sales reps have moved on ... and listen to them. Then follow up. Or pull the PMR list for your customers/products that closed a month ago and call to check the customer is happy. Go to a happy customer and work with them to get a reference case for their solution. See if they want to present on their experiences at an IBM event.

        If you're not willing to do that, or its not applicable to your role, there are loads of other things you can do that might fit your role. As a techie, go download and install a product you've never worked: set-up a demo system of some Tivoli product or go through the WebSphere Application Server training material. Get VMWare Certification added to your IDP and go do a VCP course. Or go do an RHCE. Or Install AIX and set-up some WPARS. Learn about the API for Sametime and write a bot that tells people what's on the lunch menu for canteen in their office, or recommends healthy stuff for mobile and work-at-home staff. Whatever floats your boat. Just go do it.

        If you're in marketing, please, for the love of god do some bloody marketing. Figure out a way to sponsor an IBM user-group, set-up some exec briefing dinners, work out ways you can sensibly blow the entire co-marking budget with our channel. Go use the competitions technology and attend some of their events so you can see where their and our strengths are.

        Etcetera ad nauseam.

        ... and for the redditors in IBM:

        TLDR: There is way too much opportunity here for you to bitch about being bored. Stop wasting your and IBM's time and do something about it.

        </rant>

        ... I better get to my 11AM call.

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      British People

      The single largest threat to the Japanese IT Industry.

      "He just sits there all day on Reddit??"

      "How can one man look at so many cat pictures???"

      1. Matt 21

        Re: British People

        The single biggest problem, according to a US paper, is that Japanese employment law is not the same as US employment law.

        I'm not convinced that makes sense. The Japanese economy has had long periods of success with employment law which protected the workers so I can't see that the employment law is the problem.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: British People

          "The Japanese economy has had long periods of success with employment law which protected the workers so I can't see that the employment law is the problem."

          Indeed. This is NOT the problem of these laws. It's a problem with the companies themselves! As I see the same corporate comments in other western countries (including the UK) with regards to suposedly high costs of production.

          They're always looking for higher profits and cost-cutting measures instead of promoting in-house research, development AND production. Instead of being proud of being native and upholding high quality standards. Instead of being happy with the fact that they even make profit. It's a global problem stricken with ALL big corporations with greedy leadership with no regard for the common employees.

          This happens everywhere in the world. Unfortunately the most developed countries suffer the most of this corporate greed. They need our engineering skills to invent stuff but soon as it is supposed to go in production then we are not important anymore.

          The big question here is (as always): When is enough, enough?

          Plus I hate it that they always explain away using the worst fallacies (energy-costs, labourcosts, resources etc...). It's about time some of these corporations go away! Its about time that WE say: produce in China?... then STAY in China! And keep your crap there!

          1. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge
            Thumb Down

            Re: British People

            > Instead of being proud of being native and upholding high quality standards.

            Or bankrupt. Yeah, leftist dreams of "MUH PROTECTIONIST COUNTRY WILL WIN AGAINST EVIL CAPITALISTS"

            > produce in China?... then STAY in China! And keep your crap there!

            This has been written on a 2500 GBP modem sourced from a British Supplier. Or maybe not.

            1. Anonymous Coward
              Anonymous Coward

              Re: British People

              "Or bankrupt. Yeah, leftist dreams of "MUH PROTECTIONIST COUNTRY WILL WIN AGAINST EVIL CAPITALISTS"

              So what? Isn't it about TIME that we PROTECT our own people from poverty and despair? I don't give a fuck whether you call me a communist pig or a capitalist monkey. As long as I have a meaningful job that I'm happy with and a decent income to live my life the way I want it!

              Besides some folks who DO care have proven time and time again that producing in the UK doesn't automatically translates into expensive products. E.g. Raspberry Foundation.

              "This has been written on a 2500 GBP modem sourced from a British Supplier. Or maybe not."

              For your information MY Raspbery Pi is build in the UK! I specifically bought the UK-build version from Element 14 instead of the crappy chinese one from RS. As for my modem it's a German product (or at least from a German company). Again a very good product of which I am very happy with. I used to have crappy chinese modems too. Glad to have gotten rid of those buggers. They couldn't keep up with any decent torrent (too many connections brings the buggers down) this one works great!

              And yes, that Level One ADSL2+-modem costed a bit more then the equivallent SMC one. But the grief you got with the latter isn't worth the cash that you save.

              So stop following the corporate propaganda who will say anything to justify their greed.

          2. JLV
            Thumb Down

            Re: British People

            > Instead of being proud of being native and upholding high quality standards.

            There are what, 190+ countries in the world? Taking just the 34 members of the OECD, do you mean that each one of those countries should produce its own... cars? computers? planes? operating systems? walkmans?

            As regards employment laws, if your skills are not useful to your employer and the only reason they keep you are laws against laying you off, that is not a good situation to be in, long term. Especially not in our industry.

            FWIW, some folks I know who've lived in Japan have expressed great surprise at the number of make-work jobs that are found there. Office tea ladies being a stereotypical case.

            1. Wakjob

              Re: British People

              Japan has 4.9% unemployment. Can't be all bad.

    4. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: How odd-

      Former optical engineer Hu Niu said he read El Reg from cover to cover and decided to resign immediately.

  2. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Wow they are lucky

    Here in the UK they use the Balanced Score Card (BSC) or something similar.

    First they give you an impossible task, then when you cannot complete it to their satisfaction (which is always a moving target) you get a not met on your quarterly (or even monthly) review.

    Then they send you on training, which never happens or is useless.

    Lastly you are deemed not to have improved and sacked.

    Oh and they don't care what the law says so if your pregnant, disabled etc... then they give you tasks that you are expected to do that normal staff would not be asked to do.

    If your firm introduces a BSC or something similar (with Not Met, Met and Exceeded as targets spread over 5 or more areas) they are out to get rid of you :(

    1. davidp231

      Re: Wow they are lucky

      It's not a nice thing to happen. I experienced it myself a few years ago and it wasn't pleasant... suddenly my best was no longer good enough after 12 months so they started moving the goalposts, telling me I had to improve or go bye-byes. How does one improve when they keep raising their so called standards?

      The fun things that can happen when your team leader and then line manager decide to leave for no real reason and HR take over running your department...

      1. Ilsa Loving

        Re: Wow they are lucky

        Or maybe they did have a reason. They saw the what was coming down the pipe and decided to get the hell out while the gettin's good.

    2. Richard Jones 1
      Unhappy

      Re: Wow they are lucky

      Later on you find that the company has gone, along with the bunch of slimy directors who have, somehow managed to keep their golden hellos, golden goodbyes and golden nice to see you, paid daily of course.

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Wow they are lucky

      @ AC 07:35 At one large company I worked for that was openly called "managing someone out of the business" in meetings at director/management level.

      1. Alan Brown Silver badge

        Re: Wow they are lucky

        "Managaing someone out of the business" is also known as "constructive dismissal" at legal proceedings.

        It can be a VERY expensive undertaking for any company which proceeds along those lines.

    4. Uncle Siggy

      Re: Wow they are lucky

      Sooo...

      Is it safe to say that a BSC is a pink slip for unmotivated employees?

      I seek new employment within minutes after my boss's beheading here in the US. Only bigger hint that I may not fit is when the next project doesn't have a name.

      1. Alan Brown Silver badge

        Re: Wow they are lucky

        More like a way to demotivate employees so you can hand them a pink slip or force them to quit.

        Thankfully in civilised countries there are laws against that kind of thing.

  3. Anonymous Coward
    Meh

    This isn't very new really.

    It used to be that if you lost your management/professional role at a big Japanese company, they would essentially put you in an office and have you do nothing all day. It was called something like "staring out the window".

    1. graeme leggett

      Re: This isn't very new really.

      presumably in the Japan of several years back you would either take the hint and leave, or put up with it while drinking yourself to an early grave.

      this sounds like the old way with a bit more prod behind it.

    2. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge
      Holmes

      Re: This isn't very new really.

      I hear France Télécom does the same thing, at least in some cases. Unless workers stressed out by privatization choose to defenestrate themselves.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: This isn't very new really.

        I hear France Télécom does the same thing, at least in some cases.

        For the same reasons. Between unions and employment law it's extremely difficult to lay people off in France, especially those who are officially classed as "fonctionnaires" (translates as "civil servant" but that doesn't even begin to cover the job protection aspect) which covers a lot of France Telecom staff. When layoffs are necessary it is a legal requirement to consider the 'social status' of the candidates; laying off a married person could cause hardship to a whole family, so the ones who have to go first are the smart, mobile, single folks that you really need to keep, you likely have to retain the ones who are just keeping their chair warm until retirement.

        Even if a layoff is possible the company could end up paying 2 or 3 years salary in a lump sum + retraining, etc. Shifting the "chair-warmers" to an out-of-the way job where they can't do any harm could well be the cheapest and least-damaging approach for the company in the long term, crazy though it seems.

        Of course, it also means that no-one wants to hire staff in an uncertain economy, since they know they'll be stuck with them if things fall back into recession. You can't get that through the heads of the shop stewards, though, no matter how high youth unemployment soars. Until France drags its employment laws out of the 19th century it isn't going to improve, looks like Japan has a similar problem.

        Ah well, here come the Chinese.

        Unless workers stressed out by privatization choose to defenestrate themselves.

        It's got damn all to do with privatization, more to do with increasing competition. State monopolies have a hard time competing with the likes of Free and EasyJet.

        1. Nuke
          Meh

          @AC 09:35 - Re: This isn't very new really.

          Wrote :- "so the ones who have to go first are the smart, mobile, single folks that you really need to keep"

          Single people are smarter than married ones? I never knew that.

          1. xperroni
            Devil

            Re: @AC 09:35 - This isn't very new really.

            Single people are smarter than married ones?

            Not necessarily of course, but you miss the point. "How much personal hardship will firing this or that person cause" is the wrong question for a struggling business to ask; "how much loss of required skills will firing this or that person cause" is a much more pressing one.

            If it seems heartless to fire people based solely on how much value they have to the company, see it this way: if a faltering company is forced to choose between sacking assorted gifted employees along with the expendable or keeping them all, and then goes bust as a result of either loosing valuable skill or collapsing under the weight of its payroll, how much good will it do to any of its employees – not to mention the economy at large?

            1. Uffish

              @xperrioni Re: "wrong question for a struggling business to ask"

              The thing is, it's not the business that asks the question. The law sets out the criteria, the business doesn't have much choice (apart from trying to find ways around the rules). This situation is a result of all sorts of political compromises over the decades whereby the ruling classes of France made a comfy life for all of the workforce in return for the ruling classes being left alone to do the ruling.

              Changes will be forced into the regulations of the system, but the system will be the same. The be-all and end-all of French political life is not business but "La douce France".

              And don't knock it until you've tried it.

          2. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: @AC 09:35 - This isn't very new really.

            > Single people are smarter than married ones?

            smart, mobile, single : three separate and unconnected adjectives (the clue is in the commas)

        2. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: This isn't very new really.

          Broadly correct on France. The "big company" I mentioned earlier had offices in France. By offices/A business they'd acquired. Upon the "letting go" of the last France based IT bod he explained he wasn't fussed about being let go. For the first 6-12 months french unemployment benefits (or whatever it's called) cover (or did in circa '05/06) your entire salary. I'm sure it was a year. Meaning you don't immediately start defaulting on mortgage and car payments etc.

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: This isn't very new really.

            For the first 6-12 months french unemployment benefits (or whatever it's called) cover (or did in circa '05/06) your entire salary. I'm sure it was a year.

            Close, it's half salary for two years, unless you're over 55 when it is 5 years. Since you'll pay a lot less tax on half salary, especially if you have kids, the net effect on take-home pay is less than half. You can also expect a tax-free lump sum of roughly one month's salary per year of seniority. The latter isn't an exact legal requirement but the unions are likely to make it difficult to offer less.

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: This isn't very new really.

        I used to teach in a large Brazilian college (private but with lots of fiscal incentives). Whoever disagreed with the faculty dean or with the rector was "transferred" to another department. Usually for CS teachers that means teaching word&excel to the humanities' courses, or getting an office in the last floor of a building with no central AC or elevators. I guess other industries have similar techniques.

      3. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: This isn't very new really.

        A certain Irish Telco has a whole division dedicated to easing out people who don't want to go. I can't remember the euphemism they used for it.

    3. Frumious Bandersnatch

      Re: This isn't very new really.

      That was my first thought on reading the headline--it's nothing new. I strained to remember the exact expression, but then found it online... "madogiwa zoku", literally "window-seat gang/tribe". This has been going on since the economic downturn in the '90s.

      Check out Kiyoshi Kurosawa's "Tokyo Sonata" for a really good film exploring similar themes (particularly the loss of a job and how central having one is to Japanese sense of honour/self-worth/identity).

  4. Neil Barnes Silver badge

    browses the web and reads books all day...

    Where can I get this job?

    Apropos of which, didn't GM (or one of the other big US car makers) do something similar to redundant workers to whom they didn't want to pay severance deals?

    1. Phil O'Sophical Silver badge
      Coat

      Re: browses the web and reads books all day...

      > Where can I get this job?

      It's taken:

      http://www.dilbert.com/fast/2013-08-09/

    2. RyokuMas
      Thumb Up

      Re: browses the web and reads books all day...

      Skilled IT workers put in a room with computers and web access with no assigned task? I'd be running a startup on company time within weeks!

      1. Stephen Blake
        Facepalm

        Re: browses the web and reads books all day...

        ...which would mean that the company owns all the intellectual property and revenue you generate. If you had personally banked any of this money you could be arrested and face a prison sentence.

        Stick to facebook and adult friend finder ;)

      2. Ommerson

        Re: browses the web and reads books all day...

        The employees were probably in that room for a reason....

    3. unitron

      Re: browses the web and reads books all day...

      Perhaps you are thinking of the way carmakers avoided laying people off (I don't remember exactly how it worked, if it was reduced pay but no actual work required, or what), even though it cost them money, so that when it was time to start producing a new model they had a trained workforce ready to hit the ground running, and ultimately spent less than if they had to start from scratch.

  5. Rosie Davies

    I am not sure why the solution to having clever people who don't have all the skills you currently need is to sack the clever people. Why not give them the opportunity to learn the skills you need (they are clever people, clever people are good at learning) instead?

    It has been ages since I cared enough to check the figures but doesn't it cost something like 3 times as much to recruit someone as to retain an existing staff member. Use some of the £150,000 (assuming an averagely paid engineer) and spend some of it one retraining.

    Why is this not obvious?

    Rosie

    1. Phil O'Sophical Silver badge

      Why is this not obvious?

      Obvious means something different to middle-managers and bean counters.

      They apply the same logic to administrative work. Replace an office admin by a self-service web-based tool, and they think that they have 'saved" the admin's salary and reduced headcount. It completely escapes their notice that they are now paying engineers 3x the admin's salary to do their own admin work, and probably less efficiently. Then the managers feel they have to organize an 'offsite' meeting to discuss why productivity has fallen, wasting yet more time and money.

      1. keithpeter Silver badge
        Windows

        Photocopying

        Same logic as getting school teachers to do their own photocopying instead of having a reprography assistant - to save money.

        That was a proposal from one of Gove's gang, but I can't find the BBC News page mentioning it mysteriously.

        The tramp: a lot of the lads on White Diamond round the back of Aukinleck House could do with being paid to surf the Web all day

      2. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

        The university removed all the admin staff to leave the profs to do their own grant applications, travel, equipement ordering etc.

        Saved a moderate amount of money in salaries. Cost a fortune in lost grants, wasted time, unpaid and multiply paid invoices, overpriced and wrong equipement bought etc - but nobody noticed that

        1. fajensen
          Coat

          ... but nobody noticed that

          ... another good reason to sack the admin staff: Since their disposal the reported error rate has gone down!

    2. RonWheeler
      FAIL

      Retrain engineers to software development...

      GUI designed by engineers? No thanks.

      1. Natalie Gritpants
        Thumb Down

        Re: GUI designed by engineers? No thanks.

        As opposed to designed by??? I'm all for Cleartype fonts everywhere but give me 1980's icons and menus or give me death. XFCE rules!

        Actually FVWM2 rules but it's just too much effort to resurrect my old self-modifying pointer position learning functions.

        GUIs are not getting better, they just seem to get more designed to blend into a pretty picture. Computer screens aren't for admiring, they're for navigating about and that's easier if the different parts are easily discernible i.e. they clash and look ugly.

        P.S. this is a nice icon.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: GUI designed by engineers? No thanks.

          I take it that you'd love RISC OS on that raspberry pi ;-)

      2. LDS Silver badge

        Re: Retrain engineers to software development...

        GUI designed by designers like Win 8 one, or GMail? No, thank you. At least engineers knows something about ergonomics, designers just think that every time they need to do something different just because it looks "cool".

        1. jason 7

          Re: Retrain engineers to software development...

          I remember sitting in on a software dev meeting where we were being shown a new insurance system by one of the engineer/developers.

          He was going through the options and got to one of the many selection points and he said "Okay at this question you have to type in X1 for yes or X2 for no!"

          We asked why they user couldn't just type in a Y or a N.

          He paused, cogs were turning like crazy in his head, then replied with a frown, "Hmmm well I suppose they could!"

          As a result of that meeting we spent a lot more time with them making 'suggestions'.

          1. Tom 7 Silver badge

            Re: Retrain engineers to software development...

            Not many people realise that Stonehenge is merely a fence designed by the first design department.

      3. Christian Berger

        Re: Retrain engineers to software development...

        Bad engineers make bad GUIs, good engineers who actually engineer GUIs build good GUIs. It's simple as that. It's just that there are lots of bad engineers around. Or engineers who have never seen proper computing.

    3. fajensen
      Flame

      The management definition of "Obvious" is: Something that aggressively moves the needle on those KPI's that are feeding into the "performance related pay package"!

      Everything else is "Wasting resources".

      It does not matter what hiring costs "the business", what does matter is that HR gets rewarded for "attracting new talent" and manglement are similarly rewarded for "reducing headcount". The same process happens with "new customers" vs. "existing customers". To succeed in middle management one has to be stupid as piss and follow the KPI's wherever they lead.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Thumb Up

        That is so absolutely true I couldn't just up vote your comment.

    4. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      I read that there is a massive pay difference between the old-style salaryman contracts, and more recent ones.

      retain older staff and it has to be on those terms and pay no matter what the job. Get rid of the old middle ranker and if you need more staff later you've already saved a bundle.

    5. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Why is this not obvious?

      Because training takes time.

      These guys only think for the moment. If they can sack 10000 employees tomorrow then that excel-graph has a dip in costs today!

      They're mutated goldfish-piranhas swimming in a bowl of money!

  6. Anomalous Cowshed

    They do this everywhere

    Over here in the UK they use this as a technique too: it's called managing you out of a job. If they don't want you any more, they gradually take away all your important tasks and leave you doing more or less pointless things and feeling like you have no purpose, no value, no self-worth. After which, unless you have a really thick skin, you tend to give in and beg for a quick settlement. You may not be put into a special room and instructed to look at the Internet or to stare out of the window. But the effect is the same: it wears you down psychologically. You know you're no use any more. You know you're history, and up for the chop. You go back home and your wife asks: how was it at the office today dear? Your kids ask: what do you do in the office, papa? And you cannot bear it...

    1. William 3 Bronze badge

      Re: They do this everywhere

      What you should do in those instances, is step up and ask for the jobs that no-one wants to do across the company. Get them nailed down perfect.

      You see, success or failure of a company is based on all the jobs that people avoid. If you can master those, you're business will succeed. Just like the foundations of a house. If you spend time and effort on the foundations, your house will stand for eternity, even though you can't see it, and most people can't see the point in spending time on something you can't see.

      You might laugh at this. But imagine a company where everyone is avoiding doing the jobs they don't like, and those jobs never get done.

      It's all very well putting up £100 rolls of wallpaper, when your house is sat on £10 plywood.

    2. Richard Jones 1
      Happy

      Re: They do this everywhere

      I spent the time working out to the last penny, how much each day was worth on my pension and settlement, that helped keep me going - that and watching the mess that the monkeys made of once successful systems.

      1. Tom 38 Silver badge

        Re: They do this everywhere

        I recall back from the dawn of the internet a Netscape engineer post AOL takeover who had a script at login that would tell him how much his shares were worth, and how long he had to keep working for AOL before he could cash them in.

    3. Magister
      Pint

      Re: They do this everywhere

      I recognise that. It happened in my last job.

      Parent company decided to outsource the key ERP systems because " it would be more cost effective". So the costs to the business went up by about 4 times what I was being paid (and it looks like they're going up again!)

      I reported directly to the board and I did ask each of them if they were looking to move me out; and each time, they assured me not. But I found that I was usually being bypassed on decisions, my staff were being given jobs directly without any discussion with me and my working day slowly became turned into an excercise in applying for other roles, reading El Reg and other sites. Very occasionally, I'd have something to do, but may be only once a week. It was clear that they wanted me gone, but weren't prepared to pay me off.

      It sounds great having so little to do, but you slowly feel the life force within you ebbing away; and it's not a nice feeling. I miss the company, but not the feeling of useless boredom.

      1. NumptyScrub

        Re: They do this everywhere

        quote: "But I found that I was usually being bypassed on decisions, my staff were being given jobs directly without any discussion with me and my working day slowly became turned into an excercise in applying for other roles, reading El Reg and other sites. Very occasionally, I'd have something to do, but may be only once a week. It was clear that they wanted me gone, but weren't prepared to pay me off."

        I'm pretty sure that under UK (and EU?) employment law that is referred to as "constructive dismissal", and enough evidence laid before a tribunal will get you your severance pay anyway; the company doesn't save anything in the long run. In my experience, UK companies are far more likely to make your role redundant, wave you goodbye with a smile on their face, and then re-introduce the role under a different name a week later so they can hire a new person to do it once you are gone.

        My experience may well be skewed though...

    4. graeme leggett

      Re: They do this everywhere

      Of course, some time they do this through incompetence rather than to make you leave.

      I wonder which reason is worse.

  7. Robin Bradshaw

    Better devs, shinier turd

    "It is difficult for Japanese companies like Sony to neglect the audio and visual quality engineering, as there are so many super engineers in these segments. On the other hand, they do not have enough engineering resources for the application software development."

    Yes it was totally a lack of skilled developers that made sonic stage such a steaming pile of turd and nothing to do with trying to force people to use ATRAC in the age of the MP3 resulting in an overly annoying device to use while the competitions offerings just required plugging in and copying your music over.

    Its not a lack of developers preventing sony from getting a high gloss shine on that particular turd that puts customers off, its the turd itself.

    Im with Neil Barnes, "browses the web and reads books all day" id kill for that job

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Better devs, shinier turd

      "Im with Neil Barnes, "browses the web and reads books all day" id kill for that job"

      I can assure you that many people are in this position, and it's not much fun. A few days worth can be great, or even a couple of months with a future that's guaranteed and worthwhile (eg working your notice and your present emplopyers won't give you anything to do).

      But if you're in this situation with no real responsibilities or anything to do, and no prospect of it changing, it will grind you down.

  8. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    This has been part of the Japanese corporate culture for a long, long time now.

    It is quite rare for a Japanese corporation to fire or otherwise lay off an employee and they instead resort to either boring you to death or making life such a misery with the hope that you will one day cave in and voluntarily hand in your resignation.

    It doesn't just end there, either. Many Japanese companies practice "retraining" (or what most of us would call "reformative training") where employees are sent for "additional training" whenever mistakes (even trivial ones) are made on the job.

    Many Japanese I know openly admit that they'd never return to Japan if they'd have to work there. It can be that bad... worse still if you happen to be female.

    Interestingly though I did have one friend who was more than happy to be entertain himself on the job and he continued to draw his not-very-low salary for years until he managed to find a better package elsewhere. Such instances are supposed to be rare, however.

  9. Fihart

    Think Sony has dropped content management.

    “Sony keeps focusing on the development of sound quality, even though many users hate Sony’s music content management software"

    I have a Sony NWZ series MP3 player and if you don't install the provided CD on your computer, it can be used as a simple drag and drop device.

    The player looks and sounds great and was much cheaper than an iPod.

    Above all, no bloody iTunes. Sadly I have to "manage" a technophobe friend's iPod and end up swearing at iTunes every time !

    1. Sorry that handle is already taken. Silver badge

      Re: Think Sony has dropped content management.

      Sadly I have to "manage" a technophobe friend's iPod and end up swearing at iTunes every time !

      Is it a model that's supported by Winamp? Possible alternative there.

      Or, put Rockbox on it when they're not looking. Drag and drop ahoy!

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Think Sony has dropped content management.

      Swear at it every time? whatever are you doing wrong?

      I'm definitely not an apple fanboi, but I cant say Ive ever had any trouble using itunes to put music on an ipod.

      However, if youre referring to how slow itunes is, i quite agree, and thats entirely apples fault for trying to make the windows version look like the mac.

    3. cyborg
      Mushroom

      Re: Think Sony has dropped content management.

      Are you being paid to manage this technophobe friend's iPod?

      No?

      Then tell them to get over it or they can't listen to music on an iPod and they should go back to hauling a trailer with cassette tapes in it or whatever.

      1. Fihart

        Re: Think Sony has dropped content management.

        @ Cyborg

        Paid in biscuits.

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Think Sony has dropped content management.

        "Are you being paid to manage this technophobe friend's iPod?

        No?"

        Why has everything have to be paid for? Sometimes people do things for free FOR friends (and perhaps also relatives).

        You sound like you could work for Sony :-(

        "..back to hauling a trailer with cassette tapes in it.."

        Cassette tapes weren't all bad. At least it was simple. Anyone without a degree in tech could record some songs on tape. With MP3-players everybody "assumes" that everyone actually knows about "file management" . While in reality most folks don't even know the difference between an mp3 or a powerpoint-presentation... hell, most of those folks don't even what a bloody "webbrowser" is.

        Nonetheless I still think those 8-track cassettes are bad-ass :-).

    4. Uncle Siggy

      Re: Think Sony has dropped content management.

      > Sadly I have to "manage" a technophobe friend's iPod and end up swearing at

      > iTunes every time !

      That's a worse fate than being sequestered in a forced-out room.

  10. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    And I thought this Dilbert cartoon was humour:

    http://dilbert.com/2013-08-09/

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      That is my job, add in the need to pay the mortgage.

  11. PassiveSmoking

    "flexibly restructure their human resources"

    Let me fix that for you. "Get rid of people who haven't done anything wrong"

    1. paulll

      ""flexibly restructure their human resources"

      Let me fix that for you. "Get rid of people who haven't done anything wrong""

      What's having done anything wrong got to do with it? Priorities change, jobs come and go. Personally I'd rather be laid-off than kept on when there wasn't work for me any more and know everyone else was subsidising my salary.

  12. Crisp

    Does this not strike anyone else as cruel and immoral?

    They aren't just marginalising the employee, they are destroying their soul.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Coffee/keyboard

      Re: Does this not strike anyone else as cruel and immoral?

      That's the point, in fact, I'm surprised that seppuku hasn't been mentioned as a solution to 'boredom rooms.'

      1. FrankAlphaXII
        Meh

        Re: Does this not strike anyone else as cruel and immoral?

        Considering Japan's rather high suicide rate, I wouldn't be very surprised if someone decided to end their pathetic existence by jumping off a bridge or building instead of going to the boredom room the next day.

  13. Johan Bastiaansen
    Angel

    How strict are gun laws in Japan ?

    These are the very same people who will be genuinely shocked and outraged when one of their victims turns up with a weapon and retaliates on them.

    SHOCKED AND OUTRAGED ! ! !

    1. Pascal Monett Silver badge
      Coat

      Shock and outrage are for the US

      In Japan, they typically shrug and laugh.

      Now and then, a Ninja could knife you in the back, though.

    2. lotus49

      Re: How strict are gun laws in Japan ?

      Fortunately this sort of behaviour is largely limited to the US.

      Japanese people are too polite to do something like this.

    3. RyokuMas

      Re: How strict are gun laws in Japan ?

      RIdiculously strict AFAIK - #1 murder weapon is the kitchen knife.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: How strict are gun laws in Japan ?

        Murdering someone without a gun is Terrorism!

  14. Anonymous Coward 101

    I imagine for some employees approaching retirement, or those that have simply given up, this kind of employment would appeal. It would most likely force out those who are ambitious.

  15. a_mu

    love it

    So thats constructive dismissal then ?

    It does have a certain interesting side,

    what would you do with a paid 8 hours a day unlimited internet access and time to do what you want.

    In google they only have '20 %' creative time,

    or is that management spin on things,,

    1. BongoJoe

      Re: love it

      What would I do? Gosh, there's lots of research that I would be interested in doing plus the occasional online game.

      If I knew that I was permitted internet access and not to look furtively busy in case someone walked by then it would be a lot easier to kill the time. It's when one has nothing to do and yet has to look busy is when it hurts.

  16. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Interesting enough...

    Scott Adams said that Wally from Dilbert was inspired from a situation like this.

    Employee fucked up, was forced into a position where he would have been better off finacially had he just quit.

    Basically he stayed and got paid for doing nothing all day.

    Exploit the system!

  17. Don Jefe

    Exclusively Japanese?

    I honestly though all but the smallest businesses had this. Maybe not a dedicated room, but ways to encourage people to leave by giving them awful jobs to do.

    The place where I did my internship serviced shipboard nagivation equipment and when they wanted rid of someone they'd have that person review schematics, some of which were for systems from the WWII era and were hundreds of pages deep then write reports about them. They'd usually last a few weeks.

  18. Vociferous

    > "It is difficult for Japanese companies like Sony to neglect the audio and visual quality engineering"

    They should hire Dr. Dre, he'd snap them right out of that silly fixation on quality.

    As someone who enjoy music I find it sad that audio quality is a non-issue with present audio devices. I've listened to enough cellphones, sound cards and headphones that I already knew that the average listener is happy as long as the device produces some sort of music-like squawk, but it's still depressing to see it spelled out in print.

  19. Elmer Phud
    Big Brother

    Sounds like standard JSA operation

    "Here he apparently browses the web and reads books all day before preparing a daily report on his activities and leaving for home."

    'Prove to us you've been actively looking for work'

  20. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    I've seen something like this done to programmers

    They are made to do only testing, documentation, or some awful project everyone hates, until they leave.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      FAIL

      Re: I've seen something like this done to programmers

      Actually, I think this is done to impress upon programmers that unless OTHER PEOPLE understand how their program works...

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: I've seen something like this done to programmers

        > Actually, I think this is done to impress upon programmers that unless OTHER PEOPLE understand how their program works...

        You miss understand me. I'm not saying programmers shouldn't write tests or docs, of course they should. But to be moved to a job where that is all you do, is pretty much setting a timer until the programmer leaves.

        1. Roo
          Facepalm

          Re: I've seen something like this done to programmers

          I can see how writing tests/docs forever would drive a programmer away from the business, but quite frankly if a programmer can't/won't write tests & document stuff they are worse than useless. They should be out of a job.

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: I've seen something like this done to programmers

            Don't go into Quality Assurance if that's your point of view. You write tests and (Shock!) actually conduct them all day between writing patches. And some QA teams do quite a bit of documentation depending on the company or organization. YMMV, but I personally enjoyed it while I was doing it but my company got bought out by the people who make Palantir and they wanted me to relocate to some god awful Mid-Atlantic shithole near the Beltway, which I wasn't doing. I already worked on Fort Meade once and it wasn't too pleasant of an experience, and they didn't directly say it was on Fort Meade, but my gut instinct told me it was.

            But damn, I thought traffic in Los Angeles was bad, then I had to deal with the 2 hour wait at the main NSA gate to get on Fort Meade until I got smart and started using the Garrison's gates at the other end of the post. Only the Navy people really use one of them, and I figured it out after awhile, after my girlfriend at the time, who was in the Navy, kept wondering why I was so damned early all the time, only being an Army Specialist (they call them Sham Shields, look at the Specialist insignia, it looks like a shield, and they tend to slack because they can get away with it, hence the "Sham". Sorry for going off on a tangent but thinking about it brought back a flood of memories from the early part of my career) it wasn't too normal to be an hour early all the time.

            Its alot more fun to see how some smart-ass, overpaid, smug programmer is full of shit and a horrible developer (and then listen to their laughable excuses when you find a mistake that even a high school student wouldn't make) than you think. Or maybe I'm just a sadist. But where I come from, you do the job to the best of your ability, ask for help, make sure it works before QA ever sees it, and then tell your boss you're done. Not half-ass it and hope noone notices.

            Anon for the obvious.

  21. J.G.Harston Silver badge

    Hot diggidy!

    Being paid to do nothing? Where can I sign up?

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Hot diggidy!

      At your local Job Centre?

  22. squigbobble

    My place has more complicated techniques than this

    though they do also resort to the Performance Review method as well.

    Techniques I've seen-

    -Merge teams into one and make the team leaders apply for the new team leader role (mostly used to reduce the headcount when we miss our sales target again)

    -Put someone on a secondment to another team and surreptitiously eliminate their original role while they're on secondment, thus hurling them into an employment law black hole when the secondment ends so they can be dumped

    -Churn a large chunk of the workforce over a period of less than a year (soon to go up to 2 years) so that they don't get chance to acquire the increased employment rights that come with hanging around for a bit

    That said, the staff churn is so high they can usually reduce the headcount effectively by just having a hiring freeze.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: My place has more complicated techniques than this

      squigbobble, you didn't perchance refer to a certain security vendor in the upper Thames Valley, were you? Because it sounds awfully familiar...

      1. squigbobble
        Devil

        Re: My place has more complicated techniques than this

        Nope, we're oop norf.

  23. SoaG

    Why go to Japan for this story?

    Odd a NY paper would look to the other side of the world to write about an employer dealing this way with unwanted employees. This is what the NYC school board does. They've got an office that holds about 100 teachers that have been disciplined for various reasons and are no longer permitted in the classroom but can't be fired.

  24. Chubster
    Facepalm

    Erm...

    "Cheap competition from elsewhere in Asia and the commoditisation of consumer electronics have also contributed to their decline."

    Oh, the irony!

  25. anatak

    demise of Japanese electronics

    Might also have to do with the fact that every company is run by accountants and not by engineers.

    For example cars: there is almost no Japanese car I would love to own, the European or - God forbid - even the American alternatives are more attractive. Bikes: Japanese makers used to push the technical limits of bikes (for a decent price). Now BMW of all companies ( you know BMW as in bikes for boring old geezers) is the company that changes fastest and pushes hardest for advancements. Navigation: Japanese navigation systems are just crap compared to the ease of use of TomTom for example. To quit navigation I have to push 4 options (menu - navigate - quit current navigation - are you sure you want to quit navigation). User Interfaces and Ease of use are big no no area's in Japan in general. Did you ever look at a Japanese company webpage ? The best example I know is JR (Japan Rail). Put everything on the homepage and open ever link in a new browser window. Very 90's but finding when you have a train from one station to the other is very well hidden.

    Did you ever buy anything from Rakuten ? Buying something and making sure you check the boxes not to receive spam and yet the next day your spam filter can log overtime.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: demise of Japanese electronics

      Odd

      As I walk around town surrounded by Toyotas and Hondas and Nissans, seemingly followed by an endless procession of Qasqais (sic). Often deafened by youngsters in their Subarus. Obviously it's a taste thing but there's plenty of people out there desiring Japanese cars so I don't see how they can be linked to "demise" in any way. My family has owned a couple, they ran for years, and never EVER went wrong in any way at all. Total bullet-proof reliability, that's surely an engineering trait.

      As for the webpages do you mean the Japanese ones for the Japanese, because they have a completely different idea over there about how a page should look, either on web or on paper. Have you seen a normal Japanese magazine? It's a complete riot and totally different to any western layout. It's a culture thing.

      As for the software being crap, no argument. But that's hardly a Japanese only problem.

  26. joshimitsu

    i was in a go-nowhere room for a while.

    Used the time to do pet projects, self learning, and ultimately prepare and deploy a CV with new achievements to embellish it.

  27. Nifty Silver badge

    to pass the time...

    Log into Linkedin and hook up with the partners who already hinted they have jobs going... it's what Sales people do with their customers before they leave, so no need to sneak out a USB with the customer list.

  28. PineyCreek

    This kind of stuff's been around for a while...at least since the 80's that I know of. They don't always have a room though. Sometimes they just get progressively demoted or their responsibilities are reassigned.

  29. Uncle Siggy

    T-Mobile

    T-Mobile does this kind of thing to it's customers, except they call the forced-out room a "coverage area".

  30. Florida1920

    It's happened here

    When I superseded my boss at a high-tech firm they found him a do-nothing job, because he'd been with the company 14 years. Not that he had much to show for it. After a few months of getting paid to do nothing (but at least he was isolated from screwing up projects), he had a major stroke. At least we didn't have to see him anymore. A few years later I went out on my own and was contracting at a major New England computer manufacturer, that had a lifetime employment policy. Times were hard and experienced techs were driving forklifts. They hung on, hoping for a turn-around, but that never happened. These events happened 35-40 years ago. At least garbage gets recycled today; American workers are simply kicked out with hardly a thought.

  31. TimChuma

    Why is this news?

    I did this for several years once, they were trying to get me to leave so they did not have to pay me out. Would not even upgrade the computer and I spent a whole year without internet access while working as the webmaster for the company.

  32. david 12 Silver badge

    translated as “forcing-out room” or less accurately “boredom room”.

    Can be translated colloquially as "rubber room", which was the term used in American Banks in the 80's.

    Possible derivatation was:

    A room with padded walls, where they lock up people so that they can't harm themselves or others.

    Apparently the term is still in use, because there was a 2010 documentary that used the same term:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Rubber_Room

  33. M Gale

    I remember a friend of mine who got something like this.

    Completely non-IT-related. He works in a parcel warehouse, where one of the night managers took an immediate dislike to him. It's quite incidental that nobody actually liked this night manager either, and I took an immediate dislike to the arsehole myself when I was working there.

    Anyway, this arsehole of a manager decided to give said friend of mine the two hardest journeys in the warehouse. Basically, ALL of the local area plus some more. Oh, and the Isle of Man on top of that. And Dublin. And Belfast. He had possibly three, maybe four times or more the workload of any other person in the warehouse. Problem is... said manager's plan to burn him out backfired. This guy lapped up the extra workload, and regularly finished hours before anybody else in the warehouse. He's also got a sense of humour that wouldn't be out of place on a deep sea crab fishing boat in a reality TV show.

    Needless to say, he is now regarded as utterly indispensable by people far more superior than the arse of a night manager, who has now been forced out of the warehouse, mostly due to said friend complaining to said superiors about the manager's arseholish nature. I think I've mentioned before, how he got very drunk at the office party, told every one of the managers AND other workers at the table exactly what he thought of them... and still had his job in the morning. Apparently some of the really big guys were listening and quietly slipping him drinks to make him even louder. I'm told that low-flying pepperoni impacting someone's face was involved, at some point.

    Truly a man made of teflon and kevlar. Someone to even challenge the BOFH for his bastardly crown! With an attitude and work ethic like that, it doesn't matter what kind of "boredom room" you're sentenced to. The bosses will tire first!

  34. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Better than some companies.

    Around here they just destroy your confidence by constantly breaking you down psychologically, giving you development work to do, then publically tearing you apart in team meetings for doing just that, etc.

  35. waynze

    boredom rooms , seen it before , it happens when managers are either too gutless to sack or too tight or lazy to organize a termination payment

  36. Gwaptiva

    What sort of contract do these people have?

    My contract specifies reasonably precisely the functions and activities I have been hired to fulfil, and if my employer would try something like that, I'd lawyer up immediately and sue them for breach of contract. An employment contract is a two-way street, in which I agree to work 40 hours doing X, Y and/or Z. If employer did not provide me with (enough) X, Y and/or Z to do, employer is in breach of the contract.

    1. M Gale

      Re: What sort of contract do these people have?

      You're also lucky.

      Many people are on agency work, which basically means "you do what we tell you, for as long as we tell you to do it, and you'll be dropped like hot shit as soon as we get the excuse to do so." Even less rights than the people in this article, and right here in the UK, too.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: What sort of contract do these people have?

        One piece of advice that has served me well is that any contract that has a "other duties" clause should be worded that these other duties are AGREED not ASSIGNED.

        So something like Clause 45: Peon shall perform other duties as agreed with Boss. So your boss can ask you to do something outside your remit, and you can (if sensible) refuse.

        If they won't change the wording of the contract, you're setting yourself up for shafting.

        Some of the time for me is when I'm being asked to do something unsafe, usually with a lack of safety gear, equipment or qualified personnel. So while I'll be happy to use my rusty electrical knowledge to get a gennie working again in a blackout, with tools from the back of a car, I'm not going to rewire the office (or the bosses house) in my quiet time. Pretty much the rest of the time they are asking me to be a scab, ie do a job that someone else should be doing, but is refusing due to work conditions. It's not an obvious picket line, but you end up having to pick a side.

        Dumbest one I had was when I was documenting the hand over for a site I'd set up and managed for a year. Set aside a week, had the new guy in to actually run the place so I could see what I'd missed, and to do all the documentation for the specialist apps they used. Instead my boss insisted (on pain of my completion bonus) I come and help move planters. Full planters. Because the groundsman and caretaker both where in the process of being combined into one job, and neither liked this, so both where working to rule. Since no-one else who worked there wanted to piss either of these blokes off (who basically ran the place, caretaker lived onsite, chased burglars off every few months) I got to do monkey work for IT wages. Never did document those apps, I gather they use my XP machine images (with apps already setup) and server image as VMs, since it was easier than recreating the installs. So I guess that doco didn't matter.

  37. Michael 28

    Maximise downtime by developing your personal interests.

    ... Blues Harmonica anyone?

    or the violin? If you take redundancy in this climate, at least you'd have an immediately utilisable skill.

    Also, can buskers be sued for defaming their ex- employers with , ie, "Ex- Nakatomi employee- please give generously" signs?

    My boss plays the Viola... smart woman!

  38. Daedalus

    To get back to the topic....

    Japanese employers have been doing this, or something like it, for decades. It used to be the "staring out the window desk" for anybody who became useless or otherwise fell foul of the complex Japanese office mores. Not only was firing somebody hard legally, it was likely to cause the fired person to "lose face" and possible reflect on the employer. Eventually the isolated person left honorably for "better opportunities", although this could be seen as an insult to the employer.

    Another popular Japanese trick during the heady days of Full Employment was to employ people, especially women, as part-timers with the expectation that they would put in full-time hours. Sound familiar?

    Like much of Japanese life, their claims of full employment and full education (not to mention full literacy) turned out to be a carefully constructed paper (smoke doesn't seem right) screen.

  39. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    British Aerospace?

    I had this. A painful few years. And it should have been so great! Instead I was sat reading the internet for days at a time. Got out to a secondment for 6 months, but when I came back... Crap like being pulled up for being late clocking in, by two minutes, three years previously. Union was useless.

    Eventually tricked my boss into putting what the goal of the previous 3 months of work actually was in writing in an email, had it done in 3.5 hours.

    I quit, inspiring a few others to go with me.

    No chance at constructive dismissal - they'd retained every law firm worth a damn!

    Anyway, I went self-employed. I'm now far better off, doing a far more fun job.

  40. The Alpha Klutz

    I know a whole company that operates as a forcing out room

    I used to work there.

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