Yet concerns about overwork are particularly acute in South Korea, a country with a notorious workaholic culture of long hours and intense educational expectations that helped its rapid economic growth in the post-World War II years. Korea.
On average, South Koreans work 1,915 hours a year, the fifth highest among Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development nations. By comparison, Americans work an average of 1,791 hours a year, while the average is 1,490 hours in France and 1,349 hours in Germany, according to OECD data.
Workers in South Korea described a culture in which overtime is ubiquitous, workers are expected to attend mandatory after-work dinners and drinking sessions, and employees feel compelled to stay in the office until they see that the boss leaves, regardless of whether they are finished. his homeworks
Workaholism here has also raised public health concerns: South Korea has the highest suicide rate among developed OECD countries, and its role in the country’s demographic crisis. South Korea has the lowest in the world. fertility rateat 0.78, which means that there are more deaths than births.
“Fewer and fewer women want to have babies, because they realize that having a baby means it is the end of their career, effectively,” said Cho Hee-kyung, a professor at Hongik University Law School. “Long working hours mean that parents cannot be adequately involved in raising children either.”
The hours can be so demanding that many Koreans flock to the «siesta cafes» that have sprung up in office buildings, offering workers the chance to spend their lunch breaks in dark, quiet rooms furnished with comfortable armchairs. of massage.
On a recent afternoon in downtown Seoul, Ahn Sae-hee was working one of her four jobs, checking on customers at Mr. Healing Sleep Cafe, a business she founded that she said is thriving, with all the spaces reserved and people who nap on a waiting list during lunch hours. Despite it being Saturday, the cafe was only half full, a symptom, Ahn said, of a culture of overwork.
“Workers, unless they work for large conglomerates, don’t have spaces in their workplace where they can rest, unless they sleep at their desks,” said Ahn, who predicted siesta cafes like his will continue to grow.
But in a sign of a growing generational divide, there is increasingly outspoken opposition to the workaholic culture of South Korea’s so-called MZ Generation, a local acronym for millennials and Generation Z, the cohort that now He is between the ages of 20 and 30 and makes up about a third of South Korea’s population of more than 51 million.
“Even if they don’t have a secure job, if they can find something that ignites their passion, they are willing to do it,” Cho said. “And I think the older generation finds it very difficult to understand.”
Bowing to the public uproar, Yoon used a cabinet meeting on Tuesday to further backtrack on the 69-hour workweek limit, saying his views had changed and he now believes anything over 60 hours would not be healthy. He said his administration would go back to the drawing board on his proposal and listen carefully to the voices of young South Koreans in particular.
As the sun set over the Han River that runs through Seoul, Hwang Joon-pyo prepared for his turn at the record players in the city’s trendy Gangnam neighborhood. When asked if he could one day fulfill his father’s wishes that he join the family business, he said he hadn’t ruled it out.
“Lately, I’ve been thinking about it,” Hwang said. “But for now, I want to focus more on my work. In the future, when I am resting or in my spare time, I want to think more about how I plan to live my life from now on.”
stele kim and jimin lee contributed.