More Play, Less Toil Is a Stressful Shift For Some Koreans – More Play, Less Toil Is a Stressful Shift For Some Koreans
Her husband’s employer just started giving him two Saturdays off a month. The 36-year-old wrestling teacher’s new schedule, though, means Ms. Jun has to spend more of her time cooking and doing extra housework. Plus, she grumbles, after staying out late with his buddies on Friday nights, her husband sleeps a lot on Saturdays — cramping their two children’s indoor playtime.

“Home is supposed to be women’s space and I don’t like it when he spends more time in my space,” says Ms. Jun, also 36. “It’s like an invasion.”

Ms. Jun isn’t the only one here with weekend woes. South Korea began phasing in the five-day workweek two years ago. And even though they are paid the same wages to work fewer hours, many Koreans are still unsettled by the prospect of having more free time.

To help ease the free-time burden, the Korea Culture & Tourism Policy Institute is making available yeoga kwallisa, or leisure counselors, “to teach people to seize their time,” says Yoon So Young, a chief researcher at the institute. “It is something that needs to be learned.”

The five-day workweek is spreading across Asia as many countries grow more prosperous, allowing them to pay more attention to social development

One thought on “More Play, Less Toil Is a Stressful Shift For Some Koreans”

  1. We’ve been seeing much the same phenomenon here (corporate offices in Connecticut). The growing omnipresence of broadband and wireless technology in homes, coupled with corporations endless search for ways to reduce operating overhead, has created a big push to have more employees working from home – anywhere from 1 day a week to all week long.

    For the company, this reduces the amount of office space needed, and the associated overhead costs of that space — office and grounds cleaning and other maintenance, electricity, building lease costs etc etc. They’re consolidating buildings (for example, all of my Middletown, CT crew will be moved to Hartford by the end of 2009) and they’re consolidating offices and even individual cubicles: It’s now not uncommon for 2 or 3 folks to share the same desk – on any given day, 2 of them are at home, while the other one uses the desk; the desks are fitted with docking stations for their wireless laptops, from which they can access our networks wherever they happen to be). With meet-me-numbers and webcams, they don’t need to miss any important meetings.

    The cubicle sharing incites another sociological issue (a story for another time) where people find it difficult to “personalize” their workstation with pictures of family, personal mementoes, etc. Some folks find this so important that they lug a box of them to and from the office, and put them up in their workstation like sacred icons on the days where they’re working in-office.

    Just like in Korea, an interesting side-effect is that the homebody housewives – plus any spouses that were already working at home, greet the sudden upturn in hours-at-home by their significant other with undisguised resentment. They’ve come to think of it as their time, and their space, and now it’s being invaded, and bringing inconveniences in as well. I’ve heard a lot of stories lately like: “I was working at home yesterday, deep into a network diagram, and I hollered out to my wife, asking her to fix me a sandwich. A minute or two goes by, and I get that feeling on the back of my neck like somebody’s watching me. I turn around and there’s the Missus, giving me one of those “looks could kill” faces. Without another word, I got up and made my own sandwich.”

    My boss told me that his wife resolves the issue by going out more during the day. “Anything to get away from me, I guess.” Of course I replied, “Believe me – I understand exactly how she feels! ; >

    As far as the Koreans finding difficulty and guilt with their “shorter work week” I’m seeing similar reactions here – with some exceptions, most of our folks, once they are all set up to work at home, actually do more work, both during the week and on the weekend. I get emails all weekend long (and, being online to receive them, am clearly just as nuts). Once you weed out the lazy and irresponsible types (who usually stick out like a sore thumb no matter where they work), “tele-commuting” from home is a big-time win-win for the employer – it costs them less and they get more work produced.

    And it can be a good deal for the employee, as well. They may be free to go out and run an errand or two during the day while they’re working at home, or to take a break for some TV show they like. But they more than make up for it with more time online in the long run. I actually think it’s a more natural way to work. Like a return to agriculture-based workdays, where the farmer set his own schedule, working for a while, then chilling for a while if he was tired or caught up. Office workers may not have exactly that same sense of “this is my farm” but for the most part the good ones seem to have that same work ethic anyway. Plus they can tailor their own work schedule to their personal and family needs, save on car and wardrobe expenses, etc.

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