The Tokyo Electric Company’s Human Resources Company Dilemma

As the tragic events in Japans continue to unfold, there is an untold story going on, from a human resources perspective, that most of us probably won’t ever have a glimpse into in order to understand the complex conversations taking place. 

The Toyko Electric Power Company, in a desperate bid to try to regain stability and hopefully control over their crippled reactors, has returned nuclear plant technicians back to the facility, which inevitably means that they will be exposed to fluctuating levels of radioactivity, some of which
could end up being lethal. 

I can’t even imagine what that human resources discussion must be like.

These brave workers have either been asked or compelled to potentially sacrifice their lives for not only their employer, but for their country as well.  

And these workers aren’t even in a branch of the military or emergency services, where the  possibility of forfeiting lives might be a reasonable expectation as part of signing on board.

These workers are in an unimaginable position; they have a highly specialized body of knowledge that comes with a first-hand understanding of the inner workings and systems of a complex machine… which could also be the basis of being the only hope Japan has for trying to control the spread of radiation across a greater portion of the country, impacting untold populations for years to come.

How would a human resources manager approach this kind of self-sacrifice conversation with an employee?

And when viewed within a Japanese cultural perspective, would it be dishonorable for a worker to not step up to make that sacrifice, if asked?

This brings to mind the fateful scene in “Star Trek II: Wrath of Khan” when Spock selflessly sacrifices himself to restore the warp drive and then dies of radiation poisoning. 

Before he passes, he tells Captain Kirk, “The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few.”

Is that what is going on here?

It is hard to conceive of any employer compelling workers to return to a job that could mean certain death… or at the very least, a remaining lifetime of illness.

We probably won’t ever be privy to the conversations that have taken place between TEPCO and the workers… whether the technicians have stepped up as a sense of duty and honor of sacrifice, or if there were mandates and highly persuasive reasoning making the case for the workers to remain on site.  Perhaps honors and financial rewards were offered as incentives to the worker’s families, should they fail to survive.

History will only tell, but for the technicians working tirelessly fighting impossible odds, let alone their own mortality, I salute their working through fear and overcoming the ‘flight or fight’ instinct as well as their nobility of service, sacrificing themselves to protect the needs of the many.