Continuing 6-day workweek is just sickCan Korea ever go through any sort of social change or cultural shift without creating yet another imaginary syndrome or sickness?
Workplaces on the peninsula are now midway through a shift to a five-day workweek from a six-day workweek. While some companies have made the switch, the Ministry of Labor reports that as of February nearly 77 percent continued the six-day week.
And in the midst of this transition, Koreans are now talking of the "imaginary five-day week syndrome." The sickness plagues people who still have to work that extra sixth day. But apparently jealous of their five-day compatriots, they have started treating the sixth day, usually Saturday, as a de facto holiday, slacking off, or not coming in at all. Some use wolcha, meaning one free day per month, yeoncha, one free day per year, or other holiday benefits.
Mr. Lee, 26, who works for a financial services firm, often tries to ditch work early on Saturdays. "I sometimes come to work wearing outdoor clothes and carrying a knapsack because I want to join my friends who go on trips on Saturdays," he says. "I usually join them later in the afternoon, but during the morning, my heart and mind are with my friends."
Even if one doesn't obsess too much about getting Saturdays off, the workload has often decreased anyway. Kim Jeong-jin, 28, who is in charge of logistics at a conglomerate, has been using Saturday as a cleaning day. Most of his client companies have the day off, so he practically has nothing to do. "I don't want to sit around doing nothing," he says, "so I find things to clean. When the clock hits 1 p.m., I'm outta here."
Some companies have given up on getting anything useful done, and are just arranging for morale-boosting activities such as watching movies, meditation and dominos. A manager of a business office, Kim Hak-gyun, says, "Since work productivity flops on Saturdays, we decided to initiate such activities, and we have gotten very positive feedback as a result."
Some women combine their monthly health leave day (given to women for their menstrual periods), wolcha and yeoncha to in effect eliminate Saturdays altogether. Jeon Min-gyu, 35, who works for a foreign insurance company, says, "Before, it was not easy to ask for a wolcha on Saturdays. Now, it's common."
Because a significant number of people still work six-day weeks, some couples have become conflicted. Mr. Choi, 29, who works at a clothing firm, says that he and his girlfriend fight more often than before. "She wants to hang out late on Friday nights," he says, "but when we do, I feel so lethargic on Saturday mornings. I tell her let's not hang out on Fridays and she gets really upset."
About a month ago, a company where a Ms. Yang works switched from the six-day to five-day workweek. Ms. Yang says she misses the old system because now, since she has more time, she does more household chores compared to her husband, who used to share the load with her. "I just wish my husband's job would allow him to work five days as well," she says.
by Kim Hyun-kyung