Koreans are not only very attached to their business, but also very hardworking. It is not uncommon to see employees in some offices staying until very late hours simply because the supervisor is still on the premises. Koreans spend most of their time in the workplace, which has significant effects on social life. Friends are office colleagues, dating is also often done in the workplace, and in this world, family life becomes almost secondary.
However, while the Korean economy is dynamic and promising, the labor market remains difficult to access. Korean students, over-educated, face increased competition and struggle to find work. Youth unemployment is a reality (11.2%, compared to an average of 3.2% for the entire working population in November 2020) and young people are often forced to take part-time positions or below of their qualifications.
The culture of working hours.
In 2012, the newspaper Liberation already headlined “the Koreans at the end of the job”, there were stories of nights spent at work for a salary of 1000 euros net and unpaid overtime. Yet, conversely to the very high number of hours worked, South Korea had one of the lowest hourly productivity rates of developed countries.
Faced with this observation, the Korean government has undertaken to reform the work culture. President Moon Jae In has continued this effort, and since April 2018, every Friday, Seoul administration computers automatically shut down to avoid night work. In addition, in 2019 an increase in the minimum wage was decided.
Although attitudes are tending to change, while Korean labor law prescribes working hours of 40 hours per week, this rule is far from being applied for a majority of employees. This pressure from work is also felt on vacationers, although Koreans legally have 15 days per year, most of the time they only take half of these holidays so as not to be frowned upon by management.
The culture of hierarchy.
One of the foundations of Korean culture is hierarchy, from an early age children are instilled with respect for their elders and then for their superiors, it is not surprising in this case to find this characteristic in the world of work.
If your position is important, your age will be just as important, do not be surprised if a colleague unknown until then asks you your age, even without any link of subordination in your work, he will be considered as your Senior (and you his Junior) if you are younger than him. The hierarchy in South Korea is pushed so far that it will be rare to see a job given to a person younger than the people who would be under their supervision.
In order to integrate yourself into your business environment, you will have to respect the codes of the Korean hierarchy, so you will have to wait for the oldest person in the table to sit down in order to imitate him and it will be so. even to start eating. Be humble in front of your colleagues and especially your superiors.
The culture of the family business.
For many Koreans, business is still more than a job, it is a very important social circle. The opinion that colleagues and leaders have of employees matters and it is important to invest in the life of the company. A bad reputation in the world of work or a dismissal would be shameful for the person concerned but also for his family.
The involvement of the person hired could be put to the test in various ways, by the working hours granted to the company, even on rest days, the presence of colleagues at the wedding of one of them, and at the funeral of one of the family members of an employee. More often than not, your loyalty to the company will be verified by your attendance at frequent "after work" dinners and drinks, which will be very difficult to refuse.
Plus, it's not just about attending after-work events, but participating by accepting all drinks from your supervisor and drinking games. This practice, which may shock in France, is slowly being called into question in South Korea but is only declining slowly. In this area your foreign status can come in handy by apologizing for not being able to drink a lot of Korean alcohol yet. When refusing, be sure to phrase it politely and indirectly, a outright refusal is often interpreted as rudeness.
Korean culture of honor.
Just like refusing a drink, you will have to review your way of communicating, in Seoul companies appearances and cohesions are essential. Directly and publicly contradicting a colleague will be perceived as the desire to make him lose face, on the other hand, it will be perfectly accepted that you express yourself more directly during the after work parties that we have mentioned but for that '' It will be necessary to wait for being drunk to make your most vehement complaints, the more likely is that the next day your colleagues will pretend not to remember anything but your request will potentially be considered by your superior.
If all these social rules seem radically different from what can be observed in France, do not panic. The adjustment will be made over time with the help, most of the time, of an indulgence on the part of Koreans for foreigners who have recently arrived in Seoul.