Corporate approaches to human sustainability : workforce wellbeing in large Japanese companies : a thesis presented in partial fulfilment of the requirement for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy in Management at Massey University, Albany, Auckland, New Zealand
Sustainability and Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) have become widely researched
fields. In recent years, there has been a growing social concern about issues affecting
workforce wellbeing and human sustainability. However, little is known about how
companies resolve these issues. In particular, there is a dearth of empirical research in these
fields examining how companies address workforce wellbeing and human sustainability
issues under increasing social pressures. To fill this knowledge gap, this exploratory study
examines how large Japanese companies address these issues. It is positioned within a
social constructionism/interpretivism paradigm and employs qualitative research
methodology, drawing upon interviews with managers from 31 companies, as well as their
stakeholders and informants.
The study begins by examining workforce wellbeing and human sustainability initiatives
promoted by large Japanese companies. It identifies four interconnected areas addressed as
integral parts of CSR practices: gender equality, flexibility at work, regulating overwork,
and productivity improvement. However, while companies promote initiatives under
increasing social pressures, they find it difficult to incorporate the initiatives into CSR
strategy due to emerging dilemmas.
Next, the study explores the business-society interface in which companies face these
dilemmas. It identifies nine factors which constrain the implementation of human
sustainability initiatives. The evidence indicates that these factors constitute the underlying
system of responsibilities that characterises the existing workstyle, leading to externalised
overwork and gendered roles in Japanese society.
Finally, the study examines how some companies implement human sustainability
initiatives as part of their business strategies, even within these constraints. The evidence
shows that these companies seek to proactively align core business practices with human
sustainability initiatives, in order to enhance business performance over the long run. The
findings also suggest that companies seek to proactively engage with key stakeholders to
work through existing stakeholders’ expectations.
Overall, the outcomes of this thesis elucidate a conceptual framework of the corporate
approaches to workforce wellbeing and human sustainability, incorporating the roles of key
stakeholders. This may assist scholars and practitioners to address issues affecting
workforce wellbeing and human sustainability more effectively within a given social
context. Hence, the contributions of this study are both theoretical and empirical.