The backward corporate culture

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The backward corporate culture

A friend of mine is a department head at a notable Korean company. He said with a sigh that he has taken both Saturday and Sunday off only a handful of times in the past two years. He has too much work to do, but he doesn’t necessarily need to be in the office every weekend. Yet he almost always goes into the office, because only then is the following Monday not as bad.

His boss, the CEO of the company, goes into office seven days a week, and when managers like him are not in the office on Sunday, he gets noticeably irritated. So he goes to work every weekend, whether he is busy or not, in order to avoid the backlash on Monday. “I cannot remember the last time I spent the weekend with my kids.” But he is a typical Korean office worker in his 40s.

Samsung Research America and the Samsung Strategy and Innovation Center in Silicon Valley do not have separate CEO offices like Korean offices. The CEOs and executives have the same desks as other employees. At Samsung subsidiaries in Korea, managers mostly talk in meetings while others listen quietly. But meetings at the Silicon Valley offices are completely different.

Samsung employees in Korea feel bitter. “It is understandable that the company created organizations that can use local corporate culture in Silicon Valley rather than changing the corporate culture in Korea,” one employee said. “But it seems like the essence of the problem is not addressed, and just the twigs were trimmed.”

Korean corporate culture hasn’t changed much from the 1980s, when single breadwinners worked more than 50 hours to support the family. Executives of large corporations proudly say that they’ve never taken a vacation since they joined the company.

While people dream of a life with weekends and dinner with family, companies haven’t caught up. They only pressure employees harder as the economy slows. In the meantime, outstanding talents leave for Silicon Valley or are scouted by Chinese rivals. Or they study for the civil service exam to have a “life after work.”

The Korea Chamber of Commerce & Industry has launched a campaign to change the backward corporate culture. But most companies don’t seem to realize the gravity of the issue and question why they need to worry about corporate culture when the economy is so slow.

Backward corporate culture kills talent, creativity and spending by restricting leisure time after work and on weekends. This is the best time to talk about corporate culture. They need to think about why global corporations have teams devoted to work-life balance, appoint executives exclusively in charge of corporate culture and consider it a matter necessary to the survival of the company.

JoongAng Ilbo, March 16, Page 30

The author is deputy business news editor of the JoongAng Ilbo.


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