[photo: A happy worker is a busy worker. I like The cut of your jib, Kushibo. Let the fools have their tartar sauce.]
Lost Nomad links to the annual news that South Korean workers work too long (30 percent more than Americans), trashing their marriages and forcing kids to grow up barely seeing their absentee fathers (and increasingly, absentee mothers). And despite that, productivity still isn't' all that high. Go figure!
Some skeptics of the much-touted "Korean work ethic" (like Daehan Miguk in the Lost Nomad's comments section) rightfully state that "time spent at work in South Korea does not equal productivity." This is especially true in neo-Confucian, top-down hierarchical organizations where people are supposed to stay at work until the boss leaves. Their actual work is probably long finished (or it's not, but they're too mentally exhausted to do any more of it), so the remainder of the time (usually well after 6 p.m. has come and gone) is spent talking with co-workers, surfing the Internet, or talking on the phone with others.
Of course, there are other companies, such as my primary employer, where there really is way too much work for employees, and people are staying until 10 p.m. or midnight, or coming in on Sundays and holidays, because that's the only way to get all the work done.
So you have one type of company where people are supposed to look busy but could probably leave at 5 p.m. and it would make no difference in productivity, and then you have ones where even if they stay until 10 p.m., they're still not getting all their work done. I'm guessing the proportion is somewhere around 50-50.
For years, Korean companies have resisted going from a six-day workweek (until a couple years ago, when banks and then government agencies adopted a five-day workweek, virtually all Korean organizations required workers to come in for a half-day, usually finishing around noon or 1 p.m., on Saturday). The primary reason was that they feared productivity would go down (a secondary reason was that Korean employees got too many holidays, including Arbor Day and Constitution Day).
Converting to the five-day workweek will be a boost in productivity, not just in per-hour prodctivity, but in overall productivity. Too little gets done in the three or fours of work on Saturday to justify dragging people in. Cutting the workweek some 10% with the elimination of Saturday work schedules would probably mean little or no corresponding drop in how much each employee gets done, thus there is no loss to the companies (most service-sector businesses, except retail, simply don't have anyone come in on Saturday to fill in for the Monday-to-Friday employees).
Furthermore, that sixth "half day" comes with an opportunity cost: it's one less day for workers to rejuvenate themselves so that they can be more productive, creative, and happy Monday through Friday. In other words, reducing the workweek from six days to five can actually boost productivity.
More importantly, freeing up the sixth day for leisure will eventually translate into a boost to the economy in the form of greater economic activity. Employees with only one day off per week are often too exhausted to do anything on Sunday except stay home and watch TV. If they had two days off every weekend, then they would be more likely to take trips around the country and just go out on Saturday and Sunday. A boon to the tourism (which now is heavily seasonal) and entertainment industries, and perhaps retail as well.
A two-day weekend, as opposed to a one-day weekend, means the development of a more widespread part-time workforce, especially in the retail sector and parts of the service sector, which can be beneficial to families with a need for a little extra income, as well as for the economy as a whole.
Ironic that taking a day off would lead to greater economic output, huh?
There is resistance to the five-day workweek, though, and not just from companies for whom cutting work hours means hiring weekend employees (and those companies who just hold fast to the facile notion that more work means more production). This resistance partly comes from the fact that there are probably more than a few people who are deathly afraid of spending more time with their estranged family.
I kid you not. There are many absentee fathers and absentee husbands who have found themselves married to someone with whom they have little in common and therefore feel uncomfortable and awkward spending too much time with. Their kids have become strangers and their kids' problems are something they just don't want to know about.
It's no wonder that such families anesthetize themselves by watching cable (this is the real reason OCN is Korea's #1 channel) or videos: sitting in a room watching TV together gives the comfortable illusion of being together even if no real interaction is achieved.
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