Financial institutions embrace flexible hours

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Financial institutions embrace flexible hours

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Shinhan Financial Group employees work at a smart center built to allow remote work. [SHINHAN FINANCIAL GROUP]

Park Sang-mi, a 37 year-old asset manager at Shinhan BNP Paribas, used to ask her mother-in-law to help take her 6 year-old child to kindergarten in the morning since she needed to show up to work by 8:30 a.m.

But after the company embraced a flexible working hour system this month, she has been able to adjust her starting time and take care of her child in the morning.

Unlike major conglomerates such as Samsung and CJ, financial institutions have been slow to adopt changes aimed at enhancing work-life balance and productivity.

Starting this year, however, financial companies have increasingly adopted the system in a bid to promote work-life balance and ease a rigid corporate culture.

While some institutions provide options to their workers others fare badly due to poor planning and systems to support the measure.

Shinhan Financial Group announced last month that employees at all of its affiliates - from banking to insurance and IT - will have more discretion in scheduling their work hours with the flextime system.

The workers are allowed to choose starting times between 9 a.m. and 11 a.m. for a 9 hour work day.

This was the first time that a major financial group announced such a measure across all affiliates, though other rival units are in the process of experimenting with the system in a pilot program.

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Besides the scheduling adjustment, Shinahn also cut short morning work hours for those whose job is bound to work through the night.

A fund management division team of Shinhan BNP, where Park works, often works overtime at night because its primary job can only be done after the market closes.

The team members are now allowed to turn up at 1 p.m. and leave at 6:00 p.m. the day before an overnight shift.

“Those on night shift at the fund management team typically work until 9 to 10 p.m. due to the nature of their job,” said Lee Kwan-koo, a spokesperson at Shinhan BNP Paribas Asset Management.

“Since they need to sort through the state of a client’s assets after compiling data at home and abroad,” he continued, “But with the new measure, they can manage their schedule more efficiently.”

To reduce overtime work, Shinhan Data System, the group’s IT affiliate, introduced a computer system that automatically turns off at 6 p.m.

The efforts come as more people in Korea, known for grueling, long working hours, pay more attention to health and well-being in their lives.

Last year, Shinhan Bank established smart centers in Seoul and Gyeonggi where employees can work if their tasks don’t require a corporate internal network.

The bank said workers in data analysis, design and ICT support divisions will be entitled to use the centers since their work can be performed remotely without the bank’s network. Shinhan is not alone in pursuing a less rigid corporate culture.

Hyundai Card and Hyundai Capital allowed workers to start anytime between 7 a.m. and 10 a.m. earlier this year to primarily benefit working moms. Woori Bank’s employees can also choose to start at 8:30, 9:30 or 10:30 for a 9 hour day, along with those of other Woori affiliates including Woori Card.

But the relatively new system hasn’t gone as smoothly in other institutions.

The labor union of KB Kookmin Bank opposed extending a piloted flextime system in April, saying that it did not work as expected.

“We’ve had two shifts in the flextime system,” said a member of the union. “But the early time workers often found their leaving time delayed since there was a shortage of staff to carry on their work in the evening.”

The source also mentioned that the bank sometimes set division-wide meetings in the early morning, forcing workers to come in early regardless of their schedules.

“I think workers’ convenience and ease of work should be the focus of the system,” he said, “But it resulted in extra work hours.”


BY PARK EUN-JEE [park.eunjee@joongang.co.kr]

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