Vectors for Change or the New Old Guard?Repatriation and Japanese HRM in the Twenty-First Century

  • Gareth Monteath

Student thesis: Doctor of Business Administration


In the wake of the recent and prolonged economic crisis, corporate governance in large corporations has come under increasing scrutiny. Employment is said to be precarious, and some commentators talk of how the social contract is being shredded. Against this backdrop, more nurturing approaches to employment and human resource management have an intrinsic appeal. With its stakeholder capitalism, Japan provides one such model. This thesis examines that model through the prism of a qualitative study of business repatriates and their careers. Using six career stories, it gives us a window on to contemporary Japanese HRM practices as they impact 'core' employees working with the assumption of lifetime employment at large Japanese companies. As a result, we learn about the ongoing strengths and weaknesses of Japanese HRM, and see how practices may change. The study's longitudinal research design allows these career stories to unfold dynamically as the participants reflect reiteratively on their experiences and hopes, while interviews with two other repatriates, four HR managers, one mid-career job-changer, and a European administrator with long experience in multinationals add further depth and perspective. The repatriates express support for the HR systems in their companies, while also reporting frustration related to issues such as the opacity of the job assignment system. Their time abroad has changed how they think about their work and their employers, yet they are less vectors for change and more an internationalised old guard.Overall, this study gives us a detailed and nuanced picture of how Japanese repatriates experience their careers and think about their futures. It shows the value of an in-depth grounded approach to understanding contemporary attitudes in Japan related to the ongoing debate about HRM practices. The narratives of these Japanese business people, who have been exposed to what is alleged to be better practice overseas, demonstrate the importance of the continuity and stability of the Japanese employment model. Moreover, the traditional model emerges as logical and effective, suggesting that the considerable criticism of that model over the past two decades is misplaced. In addition, interpretation of the data suggests future avenues of research into how we understand change and continuity in Japanese HRM practices.
Date of Award31 Dec 2015
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • The University of Manchester
SupervisorLeo Mccann (Supervisor) & Damian Hodgson (Supervisor)


  • Repatriation, Japanese human resource management, Japanese business
  • Japanese management, longitudinal case studies

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