Drink! You have to! (Says who?)
“They still like to drink. But they just don’t want to drink with you.”
Some people are actually fond of hoesik, or company dinners, which at Korean firms often means chowing on grilled meat with beer and soju. What a jolly way to get to know everyone while filling one’s belly ― or so they would think.
It’s what comes after the easy starter that’s the problem: Barhopping, singing rooms and, if you can remember, the finishing touch of one more “last round of soju” that you will regret the next morning.
All in all, young people and their strong livers ought to stand up to, if not enjoy, the hoesik culture here. After the night frenzy, you feels strangely attached to the people around you, having earned the hard membership of belonging.
Critics of this culture say it’s just a good excuse for superiors to make their juniors drink beyond their limits.
But there should be a reason why some companies keep this culture going.
Readers of the JoongAng Ilbo sure had a lot to say about this issue. Over samgyeopsal (grilled pork) and soju, several readers in their 20s and 30s recently shared with us their views of the hoesik environment in their workplaces.
Regardless of whether you drink or not, the trend seems to be that people don’t drink as much as they used to with their co-workers.
Yu Gi-nam, a 32-year-old researcher at KTH Paran.com, said his office has the free atmosphere that many dot-com companies are known for.
“No one has to drink if they don’t want to,” he said. Instead of the typical BBQ dinners, his boss sometimes invites workers home and cooks for everybody.
Choi Hyeon-seok, 33, an employee at LG Electronics, said the “official hoesik” ends when the meal is over. After dinner, people tend to find separate ways to go.
“I don’t think hard drinking is the only way to create a close relationship among colleagues,” he said.
Now, before some bosses start thinking, “Whatever had happened to the good old days when we all worked hard during the day and got drunk together at night for some bonding?” there were some readers who considered hoesik a crucial part of work.
Bae Su-jeong, a 32-year-old PR agent with CJ corp., said she spends many nights drinking to socialize with her clients, but she rarely does so with co-workers.
“The younger workers refuse to go with us to bars,” she said, adding that she did not approve of their behavior.
“It would not be nice to get really drunk, but some drinking helps people talk to each other,” she said. “It softens awkward situations. I know many who would grumble and moan without letting it out.”
She was also disappointed that many young people think that hoesik should be fun.
“It’s all part of work,” she said. “You are with colleagues. So it is natural for the conversation to be about work.”
Im Jun-hyeong, 32, a member of the customer relationship management team at Hyundai Motors agreed. “I think you need to meet the person face-to-face to become honest. And there is nothing like few bottles of beer to make that comfortable.”
He said that he would freak out if a male co-worker tried to find soft words of apology over an Internet messenger. “I would be so embarrassed, I’d immediately sign off,” said Mr. Im.
Ms. Bae chipped in saying its the “attitude of thoes who believe they don’t have to drink just because they don’t want to.” She considers that more selfish than a conservative boss who persistently asks his staff to have some more. She added that it is for the sake of a harmonious office that some people force themselves to drink instead of coldly pushing it away.
Mr. Yu of Paran.com thought that was unfair.
“But I go easy on the soju because of my religious beliefs,” he said. “I think people should learn to respect each other.”
(There was an awkward moment of silence.)
The next discussion was about what kind of alcoholic beverage they consumed over hoesik. Some said they drank beer and wine. Others went for more adventurous combos such as Osipse-ju (mixing soju and baekse-ju rice wine) or poktan-ju (mixing beer and whisky).
Roh Jin-ho, 35, from Wearfun Korea Inc., a fashion brand importer, said with a laugh that they go for softer drinks because his firm is staffed with female employees. Ms. Bae, the PR agent, said it is always poktan-ju for her co-workers.
Others commented that a non-drinker has to depend on another employee to become a heuk-gisa, or “black knight” ― drinkers’ slang for someone who drinks in place of the one whose turn it is to empty the cup.
The debate on hoesik was heated and seemed to never end. Soon the group of readers and reporters were moving to a bar next to the samgyeopsal house for a round of beer.
“I might have sounded like I was praising the habit of drinking, but all I want from younger workers is to take hoesik a little more seriously because it is not supposed to be a casual gathering,” asserted Ms. Bae.
Chung Hoe-yeong, 29, from the marketing team at Oriental Brewery said he was a heavy drinker as well, but that did not mean he criticizes lighter drinkers.
“Some people come to bars to enjoy not because it is in line with work,” he said.
Im Yun-jeong, 25, an employee at IPR Consulting, said she was just glad that most hoesik at her company seemed fixed on Thursday nights.
As more offices operate on a 5-day workweek, hoesik on Friday night (as it used to be) meant that she and her friends could not go on weekend getaways.
by Park Sung-woo, Lee Min-a