On the job, it’s a question of balance

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On the job, it’s a question of balance


Kim Woo-kyung, a 35-year-old employee at SK Innovation, has a 2-year-old child, and one of the many worries she has is about child care. Every day, Kim drops off her child at the day care center and picks her up after work.

But compared to other working mothers, Kim is in a better shape because she begins work 30 minutes later.

“What comforts me the most is that I’m able to avoid the morning rush hour,” she said.

Kim benefits from SK Innovations’s flexible working hour system adopted last year.

SK Innovation limits the end of the workday to 6:30 p.m. If employees work past that time, it is considered overtime. Other affiliates of SK Group also have adopted the so-called zero-overtime system.

Employees at SK Group are happy about their work environment because they get more free time.

For example, Jeon Hyun-jung, an employee at SK Lubricants, learns salsa and swimming after work, while Jung Tae-hoon, an employee at SK Innovation, studies for a certificate.

“The overall value for employees is that they have shifted from being work-focused to lives that are balanced between life and work,” said Lee Seung-ryul, an official at SK Telecom. “This shift has boosted employees’ loyalty and also productivity.”

Local companies are increasingly adopting the so-called work-life balance system, following the path of companies in other advanced countries. The work-life balance system is a human resource management scheme that puts priority not on the quantity of working hours but the quality.

There are many different options companies can adopt within the system. Some are able to focus on improving productivity, while others can put a priority on refreshing the minds of their employees or offering child care support.

Samsung Electronics also has adopted a flexible working-hour system, and the working pattern of its employees is significantly different from others that have not adopted the work-life balance system.

Some employees at Samsung Electronics go to a hagwon, or a private academy, in the morning before getting to work and others enjoy cultural activities.

Samsung Electronics isn’t alone.

Hyundai Department Store recently adopted a system in which the company shuts down personal computers of all employees when the clock strikes 7 p.m. The company’ goal is clear - it wants employees to work hard during working hours and have free time after work.

Hyundai Card has also been a frontrunner in encouraging its employees to spend more time on their own by offering them an Insight Trip program, which has existed since 2003. The company selects a team of workers every month and sends them on a random trip. According to Hyundai Card, this allows the team to communicate better and also brainstorm new ideas.

To improve the quality of life of their workers, companies like S-Oil have also made it compulsory that employees go on vacation for two consecutive weeks. If employees miss their vacations, they receive a poor score on their work evaluations.

“According to the Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development’s WLB [work-life balance] index, of the 35 countries, Korea ranks 33rd,” said Tae Won-yoo, a senior researcher at Samsung Economic Research Institute. “Out of 10 possible points, the index for Korea is 5.4, compared to Denmark’s 9.8 points.

“We’re no longer living in an era where companies raise productivity by extending working hours. Rather, it is more effective [to raise productivity] by having employees experience balance in their life and work.”

BY KIM KI-CHAN, LEE JI-SANG [angie@joongang.co.kr]

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