Japanese Business Phrases at Work: お疲れ様です (Otsukaresama desu)!
Otsukaresama desu is a key phrase that you will need to master if you plan to work in a Japanese office.
Working in Japan?
You’ve finally landed your dream job in Japan and you want to make sure that you develop a warm relationship with your new Japanese colleagues. The key express that you will have to learn is, “otsukaresama desu” (お疲れ様です).
Don’t even try to translate it literally as this is one of those Japanese expressions, like onegaishimasu, that will lose all its meaning when transposed directly into another language!
Meaning of お疲れ様です (Otsukaresama desu)
In お-疲れ-様, you can find the root 疲れる which translates into ‘be or to get tired’. However, the meaning of the expression is quite different. In the workplace, お疲れ様です expresses the appreciation of your co-workers’ hard work.
The closest English translation would be “thank you for your hard work”, “good work” or more simply saying that “you’ve worked hard”. By saying お疲れ様です, you show your appreciation for a colleague’s work within your team or related to your company.
When to use お疲れ様です (Otsukaresama desu)
First of all, don’t be embarrassed. It might sounds strange to repeat it several times a day, every time you see your coworkers but for your colleagues it shows your desire to get closer and to respect Japanese work culture.
Situation 1 – Arriving at your workplace
In a situation when you would normally say “hi” or “how are you doing” to your colleague, replace it by お疲れ様です. The expression is proper when you arrive at work after your colleagues. It is also a perfect conversation starter or ending, depending on the situation.
Situation 2 – In the workplace
You can use the expression in a wide range of situations, so it’s difficult to explain them all. Very often, internal meetings will end with everyone saying お疲れ様です as a way to thank all the participants.
Co-workers will thank each other for the completion of a task or when one of them come back from a meeting outside. お疲れ様です expresses the importance of team work in Japan. Japanese people believe it essential that everyone feels recognized and part of the company.
You can even say the phrase when crossing the path of a colleague in your company’s hallway. It’s never too much!
Situation 3 – After work
The phrase is typically used after working hours, when employees leave the office. The colleagues still working say goodbye with お疲れ様した.
Japan is also known for nommunication, a word born from 飲む to drink and the word “communication”. Traditionally, Japanese coworkers will share drinks together after work and in a more casual context, which will help to build a good work relationship.
Difference between です and でした
Good question. The nuance is a bit tricky. When saying でした, you use the past form and imply that the work is “done”, “over”. If you were to leave a colleague to his task and say でした, you would literally say “thank you for your finished work” although he’s still working on it! When in doubt, prefer the present phrase “otsukaresama desu”. Better being safe than rude.
Can I use お疲れ様です (Otsukaresama desu) outside of the Workplace?
Yes. Even outside your working environment, you could use the expression to greet some people you know well. However, the meaning would be a little different and more close to a simple greeting than an appreciation of their work day.
What’s ご苦労様 (Gokurou Sama) then?
The two expressions, お疲れ様 and ご苦労様 share the same meaning, showing the appreciation of someone’s hardship. However, the latter one is less frequently used as it implies a social connotation and is always directed at a subordinate. Simply speaking, your boss can thank you with ご苦労様です but you will answer back with a respectful お疲れ様です.
In a more casual context and with your friends, you can simply use お疲れ or お疲れ様. Always keep in mind to be careful with the level of politeness of Japanese. When in doubt, use keigo to be polite.
Learn more about how to use of complex polite phrases in our Business Japanese Course.