In the midst of transition: Salaryman senryū poems and the perception of workplace change

Spinks, Wendy A.

This paper analyzes a set of 9,035 salaryman senryū poems over an eighteen-year period (1990–2007) in order to track salaryman reactions to workplace transition from an organizational behavioralist perspective. Major findings include: (i) the number of submissions and votes for the major poetry competition, Salaryman Senryū, have been falling since 1994, suggesting a decline in shared salaryman mentality; (ii) there has been a shift in the relative importance of broad themes, so that the workplace as a category of senryū poems is of less centrality in 2007 than it was in 1990; (iii) within the workplace category, (negative) interpersonal relations, especially with supervisors, still dominate; and (iv) workstyle is also a strong subtheme, with workers showing more interest in work processes than actual work conditions. The analysis also shows that the years 1996 and 1997 are a watershed where poems shift from a more jocular to strident tone. The overall implication of the study is a potential breach of the social contract between Japanese employers and regular employees, which will require the assiduous application of supportive employment practices (SEP) in order to ensure a high level of employee performance and engagement.