Hard Day’s Night
Last year, the Singapore newspaper, the Straits Times, followed a few young professionals in South Korea whose accounts of the nation’s backbreaking work culture are enough to fatigue even the most tireless of Western workaholics.
Corporate culture in South Korea values obedience over productivity. That means that low-level workers clock 17-hour shifts since employees are discouraged from leaving before the boss – even if they’ve already finished their work, the newspaper reported.
Others said that dinner meetings with superiors followed by late-night drinking sessions are anything but optional, leaving workers no time for family and with monstrous headaches the following day.
It’s part of the reason why South Koreans work the third-longesthours of all countries in the OECD, yet remain one of the least productive societies in the bloc, the Wall Street Journal reported.
But all that’s about to change thanks to a new work law spearheaded by President Moon Jae-in that took effect July 1.
According to the law, which will roll out gradually over the next six months, work hours per week plus overtime cannot exceed 52 hours, down from 68 hours previously, CNN reported.
More than simply providing employees a reprieve from burning the midnight oil, the law is supposed to encourage companies to hire more employees and improve their working conditions, all while allowing families to have more children, wrote the Washington Post.
South Korea may be one of the globe’s most successful economies in one of the most hypercompetitive regions in the world. But it comes with the cost of a dwindling population. South Korea’s fertility rate is one of the lowest in the world, with only 1.2 children born to every woman on average, according to OECD statistics.
Without a fresh labor pool, companies are more prone to hold on to veteran employees. That contributes to a “labor shock” in which working conditions worsen and job growth stagnates, Chinese news agency Xinhua reported.
That’s led to an exodus of new entrants into the labor market to Japan and elsewhere, putting even more pressure on existing workers to perform – especially since South Korea, a largely homogenous society, is unwilling to accept immigrant labor, NPR reported.
Most would applaud a cut to working hours, especially given the nexus of problems that South Korea faces.
But not everyone is so optimistic about the new regulations. While some fear that the regulations could mean less pay, others see the rigid Korean work culture as impossible to change.
“Impossible. Fifty-two hours?” Hyun-Soo, a 26-year-old accounts assistant at a major telecommunications company, told the Washington Post.
“A law on work hours is just a piece of paper,” he said. “The reality in Korea is that we will work and work and work.”