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South Korea's Shifting Work Culture: The Rise of Shorter Workweeks and the Call for Flexible Hours

South Korea, long known for its notorious working hours, is undergoing a significant transformation in its work culture. Once hailed for contributing to the country's economic success, lengthy work hours are now giving way to a more balanced approach, with the government and younger generations advocating for shorter workweeks and increased flexibility.


Korea's business district in Yeouido

Key Takeaways:

1. Closing the Gap with OECD Averages: According to a recent Korea Enterprises Federation (KEF) report, the working hours gap between South Korea and the OECD average is narrowing. In fact, in some sectors, Koreans now work less than their OECD counterparts.


2. Industries Leading the Change: The report highlights seven industries where Koreans now enjoy shorter working hours compared to the OECD average. These include agriculture, forestry, electricity, gas, and steam supply, among others.


3. Notable Reductions: The health and social welfare sector takes the lead in significant reductions, with a weekly decrease of 16.8 hours. Other sectors, such as accommodation and food service, wholesale and retail, public services, and construction, also show substantial decreases in working hours.


4. Shifting Trends among the Younger Generation: The preferences of Generation MZ (born in the early 1980s to early 2000s) are playing a pivotal role in reshaping the workforce. A study by the Korea Institute for Industrial Economics and Trade (KIET) reveals that this generation prioritizes income and working hours over personal development potential when seeking employment.


5. Corporate Initiatives: Major players like Samsung Electronics Co. are recognizing the importance of adapting to the changing landscape. Samsung has announced a partial move towards a four-day workweek, reflecting a global trend towards greater work-life balance.


6. Call for Flexibility: The KEF emphasizes the need for flexible working hours tailored to the conditions of the labor market. The head of economic research at KEF, Ha Sang-woo, argues that introducing flexible hours will enhance productivity and contribute to overall economic growth.


Why It Matters:

1. Competitive Edge: As South Korea aligns its work culture with global trends, businesses can gain a competitive edge by understanding and embracing these changes. Aligning workplace policies with the preferences of the emerging workforce can attract and retain top talent.


2. Productivity and Growth: The call for flexible working hours is not just about meeting employee expectations; it's seen as a crucial step toward enhancing productivity and fostering economic growth. Adaptable work schedules can contribute to a healthier work-life balance and improved job satisfaction.


3. Policy and Regulation Impact: Businesses need to stay informed about evolving government regulations regarding working hours. Compliance with these regulations not only ensures legal adherence but also reflects a commitment to the well-being of the workforce.


4. Adapting Corporate Strategies: Corporations, like Samsung, are already making moves towards shorter workweeks. Understanding and adopting such initiatives can positively impact employee morale and contribute to a positive corporate image.


In conclusion, South Korea's evolving work culture presents opportunities for businesses to thrive in a changing landscape. Embracing shorter workweeks and flexible hours isn't just a trend; it's a strategic move toward a more balanced and productive future.


Source:

https://www.kedglobal.com/regulations/newsView/ked202310200009

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