The end of the averagePARK SU-RYUN
The author is the head of the fact explanation team of the JoongAng Ilbo.
Naver, the largest Internet company in Korea, will start a ‘hybrid working system’ from July. Employees can choose whether to go to the office more than 3 days a week or to work remotely from home and only come to the office for team schedules. The purpose of the system is to establish “connected work,” where things work anywhere. It is meaningful that the temporary emergency system of remote working has become a permanent option at the large corporations. It is likely that other companies competing in the hiring process will follow.
The reason for this is so they do not miss out on top tech talents, who have the ultimate power in the digital age. Top workers around the world more fiercely demand “flexibility” after the pandemic. Recently, an executive specializing in AI technology at Apple left the company because of the three-day mandatory in-office requirement.
Some people find working 40 hours a week is too long and want to work three days a week. Others may want to work longer than 52 hours a week and get solid compensation. In the knowledge industry where the number of hours worked is not proportional to performance, workers make demands that deviate from the average. Young workers at startups hoping to grow fast are more likely to make these demands than employees at large corporations who secured high salary and benefits.
Considering this trend, the 52-hour workweek, in the fifth year of implementation, was close to a system that imposes an average. It is like the strict parents who forcefully turn off the lights, saying, “It’s 10 p.m., go to bed now.” It is understandable why the government had to initiate the system, as Korea has earned the shameful reputation of working the longest hours among the OECD countries. However, dissatisfaction erupted as the policy ignored the characteristics of industries and positions. There have been supplementary legislations, but the period to calculate work hours was extended. The essence of pursuing the “average” remained the same.
As a result, the 52-hour workweek has become a nasty system that neglects “passion-based pay.” Workers who voluntarily engaged in labor for more than 52 hours cannot demand fair compensation. At the same time, companies avoided acknowledging the workers deviating from the average and hastily eliminated potential labor-related conflicts.
Situations become more complicated in the era of remote work. As workers don’t have the record of coming into the office and leaving, some companies consider “code cutting.” The system access is shut down if work hours approach 52 hours a week. People who want to work will still work, so for how long can the government impose guidance and the control of “going to bed at 10 p.m.?” The new administration wants to revamp the system. I hope the working patterns of the people who refuse the average should be considered. Even when parents tell kids to go to bed, those who want to study do it on their own.