CC: Working Environments and Happiness

Do Koreans and Americans put the same value on Happiness in both work and personal environments? The answer is not a simple yes or no, but I would say they have different standards than the US.

In America, employees will gladly use up every vacation day they are allotted. In Korea, you can’t even force people to use up half their days in most cases, and they’ve tried. Check out this article from the WSJ about initiatives to actually force workers to take off 2 weeks in a row, which employees balked at. They’d rather take the money that is awarded for unused vacation days, and accused their employers of being cheap and not wanting to pay them. On top of that, the average amount of yearly hours worked in the US is 1,794, whereas in South Korea it was 2,316 in 2007 (the last year data was gathered). And that was DOWN from the previous year.

How has this affected us this year? The government and our schools give us 8 days of vacation in the summer, and 10 days of vacation in the winter. At times it seems to puzzle them that we actually want to use ALL of the vacation days we are contractually given, and get into quite a huff if there are any discrepancies. On top of that, there is actually quite a longer break for summer and winter, for which we are expected to “desk-warm” if we are not teaching camp classes. Check out this post for more details on that, and this video below for a little insight into how that makes us feel.

Another interesting tidbit. At many schools – Joel’s included – they have to write a report about what they did on their vacation, and what they learned. You cannot just go on vacation because you felt like sitting on a beach, drinking a pina colada. Can you imagine an employer trying to make someone do that in America?

And how do those long hours affect the family structure in Korea? Well, many of the teachers I know, their husbands have jobs in neighboring cities or work till 11pm at night so see their families on the weekends only. I’ve heard some husbands have a second apartment in the city they work for so they only have to travel back to their family on the weekend. This has seemed to be a pretty common scenario that they accept in order to have a better job and provide for their family.

So that’s the deal with vacations and hours. What about the general working environment? In America I would say one of the primary factors to enjoying your job and being successful is enjoying the people you work with, and feeling that you are respected and valued. I think that is important to Koreans as well, but in Korea a boss is not just a boss. In the teaching environment anyways, the Principal/Vice Principal is KING.

In America, of course there is a chain of command, but in Korea there is a palpable fear of higher ups and there is no such thing as questioning authority. If a decision that has been made makes no sense to you, the answer is always concrete and questioning or trying to provide a different solution is not common.

With that being said, they do try to organize team building experiences and make their employees happy. There are school dinners, school trips to mountains, even school skiing trips, along with recognizing everyone’s birthday every month and giving out small gifts.

There is much more that could be said on this topic, but that is my insight for now. If you want to read more about the topic of how Happiness influences work/life and vice versa, check out this book, The Happiness Advantage.

So what do you think? Does Happiness lead to Success, or does Success lead to Happiness?

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2 Responses to “CC: Working Environments and Happiness”

  1. This topic is a difficult one. I know there’s a lot about SKs not questioning authority but when I look at the American standard, the only way we question it is behind the King’s back or risk getting fired. There are few that stand up to bosses in the corporate realm also. In Entertainment, you get black-balled. I think it’s easy for us to look at SKs as wimpy but as foreign teachers, we’ve nothing of value to lose. We’re not losing a career.

    Also, I think my perspective is kinda skewed. I came from NYC which is “Live to Work” mentality and juggle 2-3 careers. And my school here, isn’t a model/workaholic school. We have a nice VP & Principal.

    But according to Europeans, we’re “workaholics”. Next to SKs & Japanese, we’re lazy.

    Also SK don’t question authority because their boss can make their worklife hard for them and there’s no such thing as “I’ll just quit… my career”. We have the freedom to jump from job to job, SK’s don’t as much. Teachers can’t rock the boat; it’s their career for life and their career hours in comparison to the corporate world are much easier. Also, I think some teachers who are workaholic are ambitious in the vein a corporate ladder climber might be as well.

    This topic has so many avenues. You picked a hard one.

  2. I agree. This topic is a hard one and everyone would have a different opinion based on their particular work environment. I was blessed to work at a very unconventional company for many reasons, but you could always go to a boss with different solutions or different opinions if you had a different point of view, which I haven’t experienced at my school.

    Just today in Joel’s school he found out his head teacher got a document that said they were supposed to write 30 pages about summer camps, so she wrote 30 pages and another teacher had to write 100 pages without questioning why or the real reason. And he talked to her today and she said when she read the document again it was only for elementary school, so she did all that work for nothing, and made the other teacher do all that work for nothing. My point is the other teacher just went along with it and didn’t question why she should be doing that. Just seems like they do a lot of pointless things sometimes. BUT, you could say the exact same thing about American jobs as there’s tons of red tape and everything else you have to go through.

    I think there are a lot of similarities, it’s just people’s mindset and what they value. My office also provided breakfast and snacks every day, an in office gym that held classes which we could go to during the day or after work, and had awesome annual parties like fishing tournaments, kick ball games. So I think that experience affects my viewpoint of the Korean work environment.

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