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Suggestions on In-House Mentor Training in Japanese Companies

Author: Mariko Yagisawa

Graduate from the University Advanced Diploma in Cognitive Behavioural Studies and Skills at the University of Derby, UK

In recent years, the Japanese government has enacted laws to improve the working environment for workers, including Work-style reform. As part of these reforms, Japanese companies have been introducing in-house mentoring programs. However, the author has had many opportunities to observe that the programs are not being effectively implemented, such as "it just ends up as a chat," or "I participate because it is on-the-job training, but actually it is a bit of a burden," which is very disappointing.

One of the reasons is that some issues arise between the premise of the system as a "place where pair can talk freely" and the goal expected by companies of "improving work motivation," making it difficult for participants to feel the benefits of the system. There are several possible reasons, but one of them may be the inadequate social treatment of mental health issues in Japan.

In Japan today, more than 4 million people are diagnosed as mental illness, and measures taken by specialists alone have not been sufficient to improve the situation. This means that worsened mental health is already a familiar issue for Japanese workers. On the other hand, Japanese people tend to have a sense of stigma toward mental illness and are socially recognized as a "special problem" in a negative sense in many cases, so it is culturally difficult to talk about it in open manner. Mentoring is essentially a place where pair can talk freely including their mind, but as long as workers view the topic of mental illness as taboo, the conversation of negative mentality will be suppressed in mentoring.

Based on the author's professional experience, the author considers that informing such a Japanese cultural backgrounds during mentor training is essential for the effective operation of the mentoring system. When the author actually introduced those appropriate information to the mentors during the training and held a dialogue free from cultural taboos, participants commented, "I feel more confident now that I know what I can do as a mentor," "My family has been struggling with mental illness for many years, but I feel more comfortable by talking about it," "Mentee shared me a lot about one’s psychological condition, and I could understand the issue of our organization and suggested improvements to the company..," and other positive feedback.

The author's training introduces three main points. The first one is showing data of Japanese mental illness prevalence rate which is disclosed by the Ministry of Health,Labor and Welfare, and explain that this issue cannot be solved by mental health professionals alone, but must be tackled by society as a whole. The second one is that many mental illnesses are caused by a lack of warm relationships between people, and that alleviation and recovery can be achieved by fostering warm relationships with others, along with examples experienced by the author. The third one is that psychological safety is an important foundation for a person's motivation to grow.

In-house mentoring scheme is relatively easy to introduce, and in Western Europe, it has proven effective in increasing worker’s motivation and reducing anxiety. Although approaches such as introduced here have not yet been widely implemented in Japanese companies, if the program is designed to function as peer support for holistic acceptance of partners, workers will be more likely to enjoy the benefits of the mentoring program. The author looks forward to the widespread adoption of programs that can contribute more deeply to workers' wellness in the future.


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