Korea “…a society where overtime work is seen as a symbol of diligence.”
A frequently surfacing concern among westerners in my work supporting Korean global subsidiaries is the Korean expatriates assigned to local operations have little or no Life-Work Balance.
In particular, expats (commonly referred as Executive Coordinators or Executive Advisors) work long hours often extending into the late evening. Westerners are sympathetic and respect this dedication, but question working such long hours and see the toll it takes their Korean colleagues.
Working lengthy hours has been a trait of the Korean workplace, in fact, it goes hand and hand with Korean students who in their middle and high school years can devote up to 20 hours a day on school-related work.
Frankly although Koreans endure long days I feel those assigned overseas tack on even more hours… the assignment demanding as well as time differentials requiring correspondence into the evening. Adding to the situation, whereas in Korea they work as a team—sharing the long hours with co-workers, many expats are the sole Korean in the department – with them remaining in the office into the evening when all others have left. In many cases, expat feel they carry considerable burden for the performance of their department…
In a recent Korea Herald article, it notes:
For 26-year-old office worker Lee Hye-ri, it seems like a far-fetched dream to exercise and enjoy her hobbies after work every day. It is quite difficult to imagine life outside her workplace as she works as late as 11 p.m.
The newcomer, who was employed by a state-run company last year, often works overtime and sometimes works at home on weekends. She dozes off on the bus while commuting and sleeps a lot on weekends to fight a chronic lack of sleep.
“It has become a habit to work overtime. I might be able to finish my job during working hours if I focus, but I just think to myself, ‘Let’s just work overtime,’” she told The Korea Herald. “For workers, going back home in time is a special occasion and working late is part of everyday routine.”
Lee is one of many Korean workers who suffer from chronically long working hours in a society where overtime work is seen as a symbol of diligence.
The article goes on to point out the social ramifications of long hours including health and family issue. Some in government have tried to address with introducing new labor laws to limit long hours….
All said, as the Western workplace recognizes and embraces the need for Life Work Balance it has become a frequent topic in Korea and one the new generation is beginning to consider when looking at their future and employment.
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