Norm and Culture

When I studied design at the University of Calgary, we took some core courses where students from all the programs of the faculty got together and learned together. In one class, a student from another program provided a short presentation to discuss speed in today’s life style, and asked me a question; “Japanese people do everything fast. What makes you guys do so?” I couldn’t answer the question well because it is “the norm” and we don’t know what has shaped the norm. Some people always rush other people around them assuming it’s “efficient”, but it’s not always the case. Even when nobody rushes us, typical Japanese feel they are forced by “something” to do everything fast. It’s the norm.

This tendency is often obvious in some office environment in Japan. People in Japan generally think they must work log hours everyday, and when they leave their office earlier than their coworkers, even after having worked for more than 10 hours, they apologize. One day, in my third year in my first company (which means, I was only one of a bunch of young employees), a newcomer told me “excuse me Mr. Shibata, I have to leave now. I’m sorry.” I asked him “why do you apologize? Do you think I take offence if you leave earlier than I do?” He replied “no.” Then I asked “who do you think would get angry if you leave now?” He said “you may be right. Nobody, maybe.” What I wanted to tell him is that he wouldn’t need to worry about it, but it revealed that we were somehow controlled by ambiguous rules. Why does it happen?

You may have heard of recent news about Mark Zuckerberg, CEO of Facebook, like this internet article; he has decided to take parental leave for two months. By the way, if I understand correctly, the term “parental leave” has been recognized relatively recently because that type of leave used to be only called “maternity leave”. Anyways. Many people might wonder why it was possible, and the internet article describes the theory behind that.

New parents at Facebook can take four paid months off. They receive benefits such as $4,000 for each child born or adopted. As we’ve written before, however, employees may feel reluctant to take advantage of such plans if their companies don’t have a culture that encourages taking time off. And company culture typically comes from the top.

I believe he thought not only about his family but also thought of his employees. According to another internet article, only few employees take this type of leave even if everyone is allowed to do so. There must be different reasons, and probably some of them do not take leave because it’s the norm. I want to believe that such a norm can be changed by strong leadership, and it can even influence other companies or organizations where people are controlled by unwritten rules. While the norm is usually formed unintentionally by a big group of people, corporate culture can be developed by leaders as mentioned in the internet article above. Unfortunately, many people at higher positions in an organization, typically managers, do not have to lead others as long as they manage their job, as I wrote in an old post. As I wrote in another old post, a sophisticated system can be made by smart people in an organization, and I want to believe that they also, or possibly other people, lead others to maintain the system.

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