As it turns out, the work culture in South Korea is not so different. There, spending overtime hours means you’re hardworking. Getting tired is the day’s reward — a well-deserved badge of honor.
In 2015, South Korean employees, on average, worked for 2,113 hours. As per OECD data, this ranked the nation third among 35 countries, just behind Mexico and Costa Rica. Interestingly, it was ahead of Japan, which keyed in 1,719 hours.
It all appears to come from a hypercompetitive work environment. Kevin Byeon, a 27-year-old events executive, told The Straits Times:
“Everybody works too hard. It’s so competitive. If everyone else is doing (overtime) and I don’t, I’d feel like the odd one out.”
Byeon reportedly puts in so much time for work that he gets home by midnight on some days, especially after dinner meetings and customary drinking sessions. Unfortunately, just like in Japan, these extra hours are often unpaid.
According to South Korean law, employees should work only eight hours a day for five days a week. That’s a total of 40 reasonable hours.
Scholars claim that the country’s current work culture has its roots in the 1960s, when workers put in everything they had for the nation’s economic development. Their efforts certainly paid off, but at a price of many sacrifices.
It’s also a price that the current generation still tries to meet, despite the fact that South Korea is among the world’s biggest economies already. Jessica Lee, a 29-year-old Singaporean who used to work 17-hour shifts in Seoul, has seen this firsthand:
“There’s a collective mindset, so everyone has to stay late together and it’s seen as a badge of honour if you come to the office looking visibly tired. I had colleagues who were so tired they would go to the doctor next door to get IV drips just so they could function.”
The next time you feel bad about work, remember that someone else in the world feels like quitting already.
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