What Does 5S Mean in Japanese Work Culture?
It's a philosophy on work efficiency.
The Japanese work culture is often called an enigma—from the quintessential nomikais or drinking parties, the annual health check, on top of a language barrier, to boot. However, when you understand how the Japanese people work (especially compared to other countries), it actually makes a lot of sense.
One of the most basic concepts that typically make up the base of the Japanese work culture is the 5S (pronounced as go-esu). This way of thinking focuses on how to make the organization in the workplace more effective by simplifying the environment while improving quality and safety. The 5S is made up of: Seiri (Sorting), Seiton (Systematize), Seiso (Shining), Seiketsu (Standardize), and Shitsuke (Self-Discipline), in that order.
Seiri basically means sorting everything in each work area and keeping only what is necessary. What usually happens is items are tagged as “often used,” “sometimes used,” and “never used.” Often-used items are kept in easy-to-reach areas, and sometimes-used are moved to a common storage area. Items that are never used are usually disposed of. Think Konmari-ing the entire workplace regularly.
Following seiri is usually seiton, which means organizing everything for efficient use and return. Here, cabinets and shelves are labeled, and things are returned to their proper places. In work areas in the factory, for example, the separate work and movement spaces are outlined on the floor. This makes work processes clear and systematic, and there is no wastage of excess.
“Shining” is a hard-to-understand word seiso, but this generally means the upkeep of the workplace to keep its “shine.” This means regular cleaning and inspection of utilities, as well as supply and inventory checking to make sure everything needed is always available. Even though this frequent checking might seem like it takes a lot of time, doing so actually saves time and cost in the long run.
The first three Ss are not done only once. They should be continuous. And seiketsu makes sure that they are done in a standardized way for it to be easy to follow for everyone. With this, companies usually employ a structure that habitually schedules the first three Ss.
Of course, everything is not complete without proper shitsuke, or the way of thinking that monitors the results of the first four Ss. In the company, this means continuous training—both to maintain the previous standards and to improve on the current one.
Not only do the Japanese employ the 5S method to make sure the workplace is effectively run, but they also do it to ensure safety and quality as well.
(29 May 2019)