How to say ‘no’ and keep your jobBang Seon-oh has always told school buddies and family members that he doesn’t drink due to his religious beliefs. There has never been a problem ― until he started working, and refusing to drink at office parties became a painful ordeal.
“It was difficult to have to explain to my bosses and coworkers at office parties that I preferred not to drink,” says Mr. Bang, a 34-year-old airline employee based in Seoul. “I felt embarrassed and guilty. I felt like I had ruined the party even though I wasn’t the one being rude.”
Mr. Bang says his lifestyle affected his career. He eventually agreed to a transfer from the sales-and-marketing department ― which required frequent nights on the town with clients ― to the personnel department.
Last year, the average adult Korean drank 119 half-liter bottles of beer, 79 360-milliliter bottles of soju and just shy of 1 1/2 750-milliliter bottles of whiskey, according to the Korea Alcohol Industry Association. That’s a lot of alcohol compared with most countries, and an increase of roughly 9 percent over 2001.
But not everyone wants to uphold the national standard. About 45 percent of office workers say they only pretend to drink at parties when their boss offers them a “bomb,” a shot of whiskey in a glass of beer, according to a recent survey by Sman, a Web site for salaried workers. Some 42 percent say they drink it because they would feel they were being rude if they refused a drink offered by a senior official. And just 6.5 percent say they refuse to drink.
How do you say “no” without jeopardizing your career when you’ve been asked ― or ordered ― to down a bomb (also known as a boilermaker) when you’ve reached your limit?
These situations can be tricky, especially if you’re in an entry-level employee in a Korean company, where how well you fit in can be nearly as important as well how well you do your job.
Most experts say the key is to avoid contradicting your boss directly and use your wisdom to get across your point.
“One of the reasons that Koreans in schools or companies drink is that they want the group to feel unified by sharing the same activity,” says Jaegal Jeong, a researcher at the Korea Drinking Culture Alcohol Research Center. “So if you exhibit a little humor, showing that you are part of the company, they will usually leave you alone even though you aren’t drinking.”
Pour some Seven-Up into your soju cup and say you get just as drunk with soda, she says.
Ms. Jaegal also suggests being honest: Politely refuse the offer and explain your reasons.
Netpsych, a self-help alcohol abuse Web site, suggests ordering a soft drink as soon as you arrive at a party. If you have a glass in your hand, you won’t be offered another drink.
If, however, someone persists, Netpsych suggests repeating that you want a soft drink or juice, and ignoring anyone who tries to force alcohol on you. If that person continues to attempt to force you to drink, Netpsych suggests looking him straight in the eyes and ask, “Why is my drinking so important to you?” If it goes beyond that, Netpsych says you might as well leave the party.
By law, companies aren’t allowed use the after-working-hours behavior of an employee to keep him from being promoted, nor can they record after-work behavior in the employee’s personnel record.
Here’s a list of 10 points about Korea’s office-party culture compiled by the Korea Women’s Association for Democracy and Sisterhood.
1. The date and place of office parties should be planned collectively in advance and be based on everybody’s opinions and schedules.
2. No one should be forced to drink. No one should yield to the pressure to drink.
3. No sexual comments should be made to coworkers assuming that he or she will take them as a passing remarks. No one should force colleagues to pour drinks or dance.
4. Don’t tell lewd stories. Don’t pretend that you are entertained if you find the stories offensive.
5. All people should participate in the preparation for parties, including setting the table and cooking. Preparations for the party shouldn’t be done by junior employees or the secretarial staff.
6. Refuse to visit karaoke clubs or room salons where waitresses provide more services than what they should.
7. Be the person in your company who objects when someone in the group make a rude or inappropriate remark that might hurt someone else’s feelings.
8. Leave when you think you should.
9. Don’t make authoritative comments like “because you are younger than me” or “aren’t you going home to cook.”
10. Create an atmosphere where you enhance teamwork.
by Park Soo-mee