The 4 Potential Gaps in Your Onboarding Structure for Foreign Talent New to Japan

May 18, 2021

One thing I hear from companies is that their onboarding process is great for local hires (both Japanese and long-term foreign residents), but integration isn’t as easy for foreign hires new to Japan. 

And that’s not much of a surprise - unlike residents, people who are new to Japan have a much bigger learning curve when it comes to integration for both their professional and personal lives, and have gaps to fill as a result of that.

Maybe you’ve experienced this and have gone about solving issues as they come up. A cross-cultural training session here, a package of language lessons there - while that’s all great, you might be missing an interconnection between each of the elements.

Here are the 4 potential gaps you might be experiencing when integrating foreign talent who are new to Japan:


1. You think that the need for support ends once the person has moved into their new home. 

In relocation, there is a model called the “Expat Life Cycle” which shows the rate of happiness a person experiences over the course of their transition to a new country. This curve is universal no matter where a person moves to, and the only variable is that the amount of time in which an individual will go through each of the phases depends on that individual’s personal experiences. 

The phases you see in this model are honeymoon, culture-shock, depression, and acceptance

Typically however, you can expect the honeymoon phase to end after around 3-6 months. What that means is, if you’re checking in with your employee after they’ve been in Japan for 1 month, they might reply to you that they’re doing well settling in and that they’re enjoying the experience so far. But it’s not until months have passed that they might experience challenges and it’s important to engage with them periodically to check that they’re still integrating well and have their needs met.

2.  You provide culture-related workshops or training, but you don’t make them mandatory

I’m always surprised when I’m hired to do cross-cultural training for a fixed number of people only to have a fraction show up because the session wasn’t a requirement and other work commitments prevented some from joining. Tools that will help employees integrate into the workplace shouldn’t be thought of as add-on, optional workshops, especially if you’re only planning on providing the training once or twice a year.  

People who are new to the country don’t know what they don’t know. And one of the biggest sources of stress I hear from individual clients that impacts their mental health is frustration around not understanding why people act the way they do in workplaces in Japan. This is after they’ve jumped to their own conclusions, experimented with different approaches, and wasted time figuring out how to develop relationships. It’s up to you to make sure that they have the information they need to navigate them away from common challenges. 

3. There is a disconnect in the flow between the initial onboarding and the cross-cultural training workshops that are offered to employees

Another gap I have seen is when a company hires me to do cross-cultural training once or twice a year, but it isn’t timed in a way to support employees when they’d need it the most. For example, if I’m hired to do a cross-cultural training in June, then an employee who joins the company in December prior to that will have to wait 6-7 months until the training and are left to figure things out on their own until then. 

A better solution would be to build a structure that engages the employee between onboarding and training and also to increase the frequency of workshop availability. 

For example, a company that expects 10-20 new hires per year could do monthly trainings related to live and working in Japan that new people can be funneled into as soon as they arrive, no matter what time of year they joining the Japan office. 

4. You offer training when someone arrives, but they don't have real-life scenarios to apply them to until months later - after they've forgotten. 

The content of cross-cultural training is something that needs to be practiced and reminded to employees throughout their integration - especially given that cross-cultural training related to Japan includes many Japanese words and concepts that are hard to remember the first time around. 

Even though it’s fantastic to provide cross-cultural training to an employee as soon as they’ve arrived, they might not experience someone of the common challenges until months into their transition, at which point they might not recall the best practices that could help them navigate these situations. 

Your best bet? Build an onboarding program that engages with employees for at least the first 6 months of their transition to ensure they have support both related to workplace culture as well as culture outside of the workplace. 

Ready to talk about how to make this work for your organization? Reach out to us at [email protected]!

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