The generation gap at the office ends at hoesik

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The generation gap at the office ends at hoesik

A 31-year-old employee at an infomercial company is frustrated with his boss.

“My boss is so proud to have worked overtime all the time when he was my age,” he says.

On a recent day, the employee was made to toil late into the evening to prepare materials for an executive meeting, forging ahead with vague instructions and going back and forth with his superiors to get it right.

The materials were finally approved a few hours past official working hours. On the way out, he was dragged into a drinking session with his boss, who insisted on rewarding his hard work with a bottle of soju.

The employee eventually arrived home at 1 a.m., only to head back to the office at 7 a.m. the next day.

He is not alone in his frustration.

Six out of 10 employees in Korea say they feel a generation gap in the office, according to a survey conducted last week by the Korea Chamber of Commerce and Industry (KCCI).

The old tend to notice the differences more than the young. Close to 70 percent of those in their 40s and 50s feel a generation gap, while the number was 52.7 percent for those in their 20s and 62.8 percent for those in their 30s.

The survey of 13,000 people aged 20 to 59 working at 30 companies was conducted online. Among the respondents, 126 were interviewed in person for more detailed information.

Generational conflicts center around key elements of Korea’s work culture: overtime; team dinners, commonly referred to as hoesik; and top-down decision making.

Baby boomers view working overtime more positively compared to their younger counterparts: 35.5 percent of those in their 40s and 42.8 percent of those in their 50s answered that overtime work is necessary for performance.

Millennials tend to agree less with this claim. Only 26.9 percent of those in their 20s and 27.2 percent of those in their 30s agreed with this argument.

The older employees tend to value sacrifice and loyalty toward the company, while their younger counterparts value individual rights more.

According to the survey, 47.4 percent of those in their 40s and 66.7 percent of those in their 50s said they are willing to sacrifice for the company. Only around 35 percent of those in their 20s and 30s said they are.

Young employees are quick to claim their individual rights and point out the working hours stipulated in their contract, said the KCCI.

“We no longer have the same job for the rest of our lives. The higher-ups should stop demanding us to give unconditional loyalty to the company. This is a big problem the older employees need to fix,” said Park Nam-gyu, 31, who works in the finance industry.

Most age groups - except for those in their 50s - were dissatisfied by the communication style of their bosses, with more than 50 percent aged 20 to 49 saying they would like clear and reasonable directions from their superiors.

While millennials and baby boomers agreed that team building activities are necessary, it turns out few in any age group like hoesik. Only 24.1 percent of those in their 20s were positive on the team-building dinners, while only 20 percent of those in their 50s were also up for the traditional gatherings.

“Hoesik accompanied with alcohol helps bring out honest feelings that could be hard to talk about in an office setting,” said Park Soo-young, an executive at an auto parts manufacturer.

Young people said they tend to avoid these dinners because they feel like an extension of work.

According to millennials, enough communication is already happening in the office, and hoesik is just not needed.

“It’s so unnecessary. There are so many other possible activities to foster teamwork. With or without alcohol, the real problem is the top-down way of communication and decision making,” the infomercial company employee said.

Some academics believe it’s the old-fashioned work culture that needs to change to fundamentally narrow the gap.

Unclear instructions and the lack of decision-making power, freedom and respect for diversity can create conflict. Aging leadership and a lack of reasonable compensation also create gaps between employees.

“A company needs to be transparent with internal information and be ready to be held accountable if something wrong happens in the company.” said Kim Young-hun, an adjunct professor of business administration at Kyung Hee University.

“Leaders need to provide fair performance evaluations so that young employees can be recognized for their achievements and seek growth within the organization.”

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