The Unbearable Lightness of Being: Productivity VS Human Dignity

Many people passing to and fro in a station

A disposable worker

Today, by writing this article, I try to make a stir in the philosophy of productivity improvement. I know it’s very tiny one, though. When I decided to resign from Japan Air Self-Defense Force (JASDAF), the title of this article came up and stayed in my mind. After 10-month hell-like training, what awaited me was real hell. My job was just sorting and packing aircraft parts carried on a belt conveyor in a huge automated warehouse. That was so cruel treatment for young me. I was trained to keep on walking in a row even in boots with blood inside for many hours without sleep, but the job easily took away my will to fight. It’s not only because the job was monotonous but because I couldn’t see the whole picture and felt like I was just a small replaceable part of a machine.

Productivity VS human dignity

In terms of productivity especially in the manufacturing industry, line production would be an optimum solution. It’s, however, fundamentally difficult for workers to see the whole picture of their work. I understand the importance of productivity improvement, and didn’t mean to criticize JASDAF. Thanks to the mass production method (including line production) by Ford, we ordinary people became able to buy cars now, but should we keep improving productivity and producing in larger quantities, even after seeing many people lose job satisfaction?

Our factory staff is sanding the surface of a dinint table.

We are both consumers and workers

Indeed, line production is adopted in our factory, but it’s partially, considering the motivation of workers. As evidence of that commitment, we don’t accept OEM orders for furniture parts where workers can’t see the whole picture. It’s not a for-profit action, but I think it’s socially correct and even profitable in the long run. Productivity improvement brings some happiness to consumers and some dissatisfaction to workers. I think we shouldn’t forget consumers and workers, both are ourselves.

A corporate logo, the letters of C and H are combined to look like a tree in a circle

Shungo Ijima

He is travelling around the world. His passion is to explain Japan to the world, from the unique viewpoint accumulated through his career: overseas posting, MBA holder, former official of the Ministry of Finance.