Building a career that allows a good work-life balance for working couples supported by company childrearing and nursing care schemes

Vol.17 Building a career that allows a good work-life balance for working couples supported by company childrearing and nursing care schemes
Akihiko Ikeda | Quality Planning Section, Quality Planning Department, Quality Reliability Division, DSBG
I was involved in developing the
HDC-100 professional video
My workplace when I was working
on product design

Sony is a company where you can say and do
what you want

I have now been working for Sony for 33 years, but to be honest I lacked confidence before I joined the company. This was because Sony had the image of a company where you can say what you want, but it is also something of a meritocracy where you have to deliver on what you say. I was apprehensive about whether I could really survive in such an environment.
When I eventually started work at Sony, I found that this image was exactly right. Employees are completely free to speak their minds and pursue their work as they wish. The first three years after joining the company were very tough. I was assigned to the team in charge of developing professional HD video cameras for broadcasting stations, which was part of the Camera Technology Department of the Broadcast and Professional System Division at the time. It was famous for never compromising on specifications because it made the world's best high-resolution video cameras, and for achieving the toughest delivery times. My boss at the time gave me a tough course in product design for which I did not even have the basic necessary knowledge because I was a new college graduate who had majored in Chemistry. I was subsequently transferred from the development of finished products to the Semiconductor Business, the gemba for parts development. I was blessed with great bosses and colleagues, and for 18 years as a product design engineer, I experienced everything from product planning of IC chip for AV equipment to design, sales and quality responses. I requested and was granted transfers to workplaces that I found interesting, and even received the Directors Award for sales and customer support for the products I was in charge of.
Now I belong to a group consisting of in-house lecturers who hold workshops and training sessions for employees. That is pretty rare in the company. I have for 12 years provided guidance on "Concept Methods," "Creating Patents," and "Person-to-person Skills." The worksite experience I gained over 21 years in development and product design after joining the company provided the basis of my current work as a lecturer. Today, I am completely accustomed to the culture at Sony and honestly believe it is a wonderful company that allows me to say and do what I want.

Ultra work-life balance supports working
couples, childrearing, nursing care and
work duties

I feel my current work as an in-house lecturer is my true calling. Today, as my activities are expanding and I am also working outside the company as a university lecturer, my days are very busy and highly fulfilling. I have now been working for Sony for 33 years, but from the perspective of different stages of life, the road has not always been uneventful. Since we got married, my wife and I have both worked while raising our children and providing nursing care for our parents. I must admit that maintaining a good work-life balance while delivering results was pretty tough. The fact that I nevertheless reached my present position is, I believe, due to the problem-solving and interpersonal skills I acquired through my work as a lecturer, and to a company system and culture that value its employees.

Child-rearing experience proved very useful in honing my skills as a lecturer. Nurturing employees and raising children are essentially exactly the same. I have a son and a daughter, and when they were younger, they were always asking me "Why?" as most kids do. I accepted this as a sign of their interest and curiosity, and made sure to encourage it. When they started playing soccer and tennis, I went to their practices and coached them. I taught them leadership and interpersonal skills in junior and senior high school, and spent an hour each day for a month providing my son with guidance on an interview for senior high school. While it is very important to encourage creativity when children are small, parenthood takes on even greater importance from adolescence onwards. Parents pass on their life lessons through their support by enabling the children to accept the trials and tribulations of a sensitive age in a positive manner, and to move on to further challenges. The image I have in mind is not one of being overprotective and laying down rails that lead them unswervingly towards their goals. Instead, I see the parents' role as placing them aboard a small ship that drifts into the wide ocean, and watching over them. This approach was further fostered by my work as a lecturer.

Lecturing at university

Childrearing is an invaluable time for the family,
an integral part of life itself

That said, things were very difficult for us after our children were born. In the first month after our second child was born, I had such a hard time balancing work and childrearing that I lost five kilograms. As I was in charge of picking up and dropping off our first child at nursery school, I would have to leave work for a while to pick him up, take him home, bathe him, then go back to work. On numerous occasions, I would have to respond on the spur of the moment when one or both of them developed a fever or something. In such cases, I was really helped by Sony's childcare system (*1). It goes without saying that this system allows people to work on a flextime basis, but the long-term childcare leave and the flexi-holiday systems are also really helpful for working couples. Sony has a long-standing, deep-rooted culture that values its employees' private lives, so there is no workplace opposition when employees take time off to refresh themselves or look after their children (*2). I believe this environment makes it much easier for parents to participate in rearing their children. The fact that my wife also works for Sony makes it easier for us to do things together, and since our holidays are the same, it is also easier to plan family time.

Many male employees still find it difficult to make use of the childcare leave system, but once they have children, it is very important for fathers to take charge of the children overnight on weekends to give mothers some time of their own. Sometimes babies cry throughout the night and have to be looked after constantly, making it difficult for parents to sleep. Since mothers who have just given birth may find things difficult emotionally, fathers must also understand how tough raising children can be. Childrearing is not simply a matter of spending time with the family. It is a vitally important family time, part of one's own life. You can do much better at work if your own family life is happy.

My son experiencing overseas

Quitting the company would have been my only option if the nursing care
leave system had not existed.

Providing nursing care for my parents was another problem I faced while trying to ensure a good work-life balance. Just when I was working flat-out on semiconductor design at the age of 37, my father was diagnosed with terminal cancer that had metastasized throughout his body, giving him only a short time to live. We chose home care nursing to satisfy my father's wish to spend his last days at home, but my mother had spent many years fighting cirrhosis of the liver and was incapable of looking after him by herself. I therefore had no choice but to devote myself to caring for their health. If Sony's nursing care leave system had not existed, leaving the company would have been my only option.
I asked the hospital to give me two weeks' training in home-based nursing care, but once I started, I found it to be much tougher than I had ever imagined. My father's illness had turned his night into day, and he would call me for no apparent reason every 10 minutes or so during the night. As his impossible demands increased, I became more and more exhausted both physically and mentally. Even after such a hard time, the final outcome is tough on everyone. To see things through, it was necessary from the start to have the willpower to nurse my father, not just for his sake but to ensure I would have no regrets. Nursing someone is not exactly a pretty experience, so it is difficult to continue without such willpower.
My advice to anyone who is holding down a job while involved in nursing care in this way is that they not only need mutual family cooperation but should also make skillful use of the public nursing-care system.
And they should also discuss matters with the company as soon as possible. As I took temporary leave from the company, I caused other people considerable trouble because I had to ask them to cover for me. However, my boss readily gave his consent without showing any displeasure, and told me not to worry about things in my absence. I am eternally grateful to my boss and colleagues because they really helped me out at the time. I was truly rescued by the existence of the company's nursing care leave system, and by the wonderful interpersonal relationships in my workplace.

I want to repay the company for helping me
out in both my private and my working life.

Today, I am working while providing my mother with nursing care, but I am greatly helped by Sony's powerful nursing care support system, its nursing care leave system, nursing care days off and nursing care telecommuting system. I firmly believe that if company child care and nursing care systems are in place, and the workplace supports them, any employee that uses them will surely develop a stronger commitment to the company. This also works to the company's advantage because I honestly think that support from company systems and colleagues at tough times in one's life encourages the recipients to contribute more to the company, and to cooperate with fellow-workers and younger colleagues who find themselves in similar situations.
Looking back at my 33 years working for Sony, I have been greatly helped by Sony's systems in my private and work life, and have been blessed with great bosses and colleagues. I am only five years away from mandatory retirement, but I intend to repay the company by contributing to fostering the younger generation as a lecturer. The fact that I can happily spend my time closely involved in my children's growth like this is a dream come true. Looking further ahead, I also want to contribute to bringing up the many children who will be responsible for Japan's future, not just my own, and to enable them to create a Japan where they can live happily.

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