The 69-Hour Korean Workweek

A recent story that has made worldwide headlines was not on North Korea, but a 69-hour workweek.

For those of us long tied to Korea, the Korean workweek has changed much over the years. I can recall a time I’d be onsite at 8 a.m. and leave at varying times early in the evening only to meet a few minutes later for a team dinner.

Those days are mostly gone. Including, no more working ½ days on Saturdays. Many companies are also considerably more flexible — some workers arrive at their desks at 9 a.m. and, in some cases, by 10 a.m. to avoid the commute rush hours.

Five years ago, South Korea cut the number of work hours to 52  — a regular 40 hours and 12 hours of paid overtime. Oh, and these are hours on the job, and we cannot discount the long commutes.

But earlier this month, the nation’s conservative government in an effort to boost competitiveness and productivity, floated a 69-hour workweek. That’s a huge jump of 17 hours or about 3 ½ hours a day. Layer on the commute — and many would leave for work in the dark and return home in the dark.

No surprise, South Korea has backed off the 69-hour plan to lengthen the workweek after a pushback by the country’s millennials — who make up the bulk of the workforce. This is a  generation who grew up watching their parents endure long workweeks and with precious few hours for a work-life balance.

Interestingly, during times of global slowdowns, we’ve some of the major groups ask their teams to start an hour earlier — but that was temporary and rare.  So, what prompted the idea of boosting the workweek?

For one, many senior executives were not bound to the cut in hours—and had continued to work executive hours — 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. — same for the older government officials who crafted the new plan.

Frankly, the current workweek and the need to pay overtime and adhere to the 52 hours have been a concern for a while.

Some small to medium size companies have claimed worker shortages and demands on the business are such that there are not enough hours in the day. And in the past, workers would stay at their desks until a task was completed — even if that meant all night.

I’ll be interested to see what the government sees as an alternative, as the current plan was soundingly rejected.

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Don Southertonhttps://www.bridgingculture.com/
Don Southerton is the Founder and CEO of Bridging Culture Worldwide.

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