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Eureka: My experience with Korean corporate culture
by Joseph Gatt
2018-06-18 08:43:31
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Little things I noticed at the Korean workplace, in no particular order.

-The control tower. Almost every large Korean company has a control tower, where all the computer screens are checked in real time and CCTV cameras in the office are displayed in real time. If a worker seems to be slacking on his computer too much, seems to be taking too many toilet breaks or seems to be moving around too much, a phone call will be made to his or her supervisor. The supervisor will see the phone call as a humiliation, and will shower the worker with work, or will ban them from taking toilet breaks.

kore0001-Disastrous communication. The analogy I often use is when I proposed to my ex-fiancée, a few days later she asked me to wait for her at the entrance of a university campus. She came to pick me up, we hopped into a car and her friend drove us to a faraway place. We ended up in an apartment complex, entered an apartment, and stood chatting with her friend. How do you like the apartment, my ex-fiancée asked me. I thought the apartment was her friend's so I said it was nice and cozy. My ex-fiancée told me we were going to buy that apartments, after which I immediately postponed the wedding. No conversation about what kind of apartment we might need, what district or neighborhood would suit us, what mortgage payment plan would be optimal, what career options we had, nothing. That's pretty much how communication works at the Korean workplace. You have a client coming or a client make an order, and there's no communication on how to handle the client or his order. So a lot of mistakes and accidents end up taking place.

-Subordinates sending clients away. Because clients mean subordinates have to work on the order, if a client comes and no one is looking, subordinates will just send the client away to avoid working on their order. A lot of times they will pretend to be talking on the phone and will keep pretending to talk until the client leaves.

-Micromanagement. In the US, we might issue daily reports to inform our boss of what has been done and what needs to be done. In Korea, the daily report will be to show your boss how dedicated you are to the job and how hard you are working. If there is little information on the daily report, you could get told off for not working hard enough.

-You will be treated like a bag of dirt. Regardless of how many skills you might have, how many connections you might have or how much information you might have, you will be treated like a bag of dirt. At one point, I had the phone numbers and personal connections with several important people, yet that did not provide room for promotions or more respect at the workplace.

-No fear of consequences or the law. You could be the President's son; your boss will still treat you like you're nobody and will still break the law before your very eyes. Korean companies tend to think they can bribe their way out of sticky situations the same way pedophiles tend to think they can bribe their way out of prison.

-Fixing the books. Reports given to the directors, be it financial reports or performance reports, tend to be romanticized a little bit. Financial reports tend to be fixed, and fictional clients tend to be stated just to sound like things are going good at the company. So you have to be good at reading the signs.

-Companies located in ghost towns. In the past, companies tended to be located in busy city centers and were surrounded by restaurants and pubs. Workers tended to be naive, and tended to go get a few drinks after work, in some cases every day. But now that workers know their labor rights, a lot of companies have relocated to ghost towns to prevent workers from going to pubs and unionizing.

-Gossip. Take any worker, and they'll have something negative to say about them. Koreans rarely focus on the positives.

-The average worker lasts 11 months. Given the aggressive nature of the Korean workplace, the average worker lasts 11 months. Only 20% Koreans aged 65 or over have worked 10 years in their professional lives. A lot of workers are forced to quit or retire in their late forties or perhaps early fifties, even when they are stellar performers at the workplace.

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