How do Koreans handle a foreign work environment?

Here at TMH we often get “colorful” commentary on what foreigners think about their Korean places of work and their bosses.  With that in mind, I’ve often wondered how the rank and file Korean felt about working in foreign owned companies and with foreign bosses.  Would Koreans be happier in a Western work setting vs. a Korean work environment?  Conventional wisdom may indicate that a Korean might be less stressed in Western work culture where there could be less emphasis on leadership hierarchy, expectation of face time, and perhaps the ability to exercise a bit more creativity and/or independence.

According to the JoongAng Daily, employment website Job Korea surveyed 942 Korean workers in both Korean and foreign owned (i.e. mostly Western) companies and government agencies with questions on their job satisfaction.  The results were not as clear as the expectations may be and point to there being a fair amount of stress and frustration for Koreans at foreign companies.

Unlike people working at Korean companies, who said their jobs caused them stress because they were concerned about their future and job stability, those employed by foreign companies said that they felt stress when senior workers gave them too much work and had unreasonably high expectations.

The survey results are ironic because many first-time job seekers consider foreign companies their top choice because of good benefits and a horizontal corporate culture.

“In Korean corporate culture, senior workers become a guardian when a junior first joins the team,” [Jung Joo-hee, a spokesperson for Job Korea] said. “Even though they nitpick or scold the juniors .?.?. the seniors have the intention to guide them to learn job tasks more efficiently and to help them become part of the team quickly.”

She explained that the absence of such guidance, which puts full responsibility for a task on a junior worker, may make Koreans feel even more pressured and isolated.

Here’s a summary of the findings:

(Source: JoongAng Ilbo)

Interesting.  Everybody got the same number 2, however foreigner bosses appear to be piling it on more than the others (32.1% vs. 28.9%, 28.7% and 27.4%).  Relationship ambiguity with their foreign seniors also appears to be scaring the crap out of Koreans.

  • redwhitedude

    Well there is one downside to working in foreign companies. If you have to teleconference with corporate HQ which is located in say US. You know what the problem is going to be due to time difference. That is for people working at companies such as Google and Symantec.

    It would really help to ask those people who worked in Korean companies and then shifted to foreign companies.

  • Dokdoforever

    This survey seems to show that Confucianism may have a beneficial side as well, in contrast to the recent Sewol tragedy example. Some of the lower level people apparently do appreciate having a patron to look after them.

    Also, I think it shows that Koreans may have a harder time adjusting to a less structured/formalized relationship style with their superiors. U.S. relationships may be more casual or informal, but there’s still a way of showing deference and respect to one’s boss. The norms, though, are more subtle, which may present a challenge to those comfortable with a formal hierarchical system.

    Finally, where is the stat on worker satisfaction in each type of company? It’s silly to look at top five complaints, when workers at one place could be ten times happier than their peers at other organizations.

  • Seoulgoodman

    Let those who complain work for a day in the ER at a Korean hospital. They’ll change their tune about workload and relationship with their superiors.

  • redwhitedude

    That’s an issue with their upbringing. Being more comfortable with formal hierarchical system unlike the US which tends to vary among different people.

  • brier

    I imagine it points to what the foreign company’s HR departments need to do. Don’t hire right out of university, but hire people with proven accomplishments and the ability to articulate why it is an accomplishment after a few years (or many years) in the job market.

  • redwhitedude

    Or hire them as interns before making them full time permanent employees if these interns prove themselves worthy.

  • Ajoshi123

    Quite a few of my Korean friends work for foreign companies, nearly all of their managers and CEOs are Korean.

    This study would only be applicable if it was about Koreans working overseas in foreign companies.

  • Dokdoforever

    I’d also be interested to see if gender is a factor in job satisfaction at foreign firms. My impression was that western firms offered Korean women more career opportunities than some Korean firms – no forced retirement upon getting married or having children.

  • wangkon936

    Excellent point.

  • wangkon936

    I would think that many of those surveyed would have had foreign seniors because of how the results played out.

    If you look at what stressed Koreans who worked at foreign companies the most it was “relationship with senior co-workers” at 35.7% whereas the same issue for Korean conglomerates was a contrasting 23.1% (3rd instead of 1st and over 12 basis points higher), for a government agency or an SME it wasn’t even a top five concern.

    On the other hand I think a Korean women would probably handle a foreign work culture better than a Korean man. They would probably handle the loss of face and disorientation better and wouldn’t lock up as much if they couldn’t reply back with perfect English, etc. That’s why I thought Dokdoforever’s comment earlier had a very good point.

  • redwhitedude

    Good point. I also would add that foreign firms find less competition in hiring women and by doing that they may subvert traditional attitudes of women in the labor force in Korea.

  • wangkon936

    This survey collaborates well with the consensus from these articles:

    http://qz.com/224912/a-korean-company-killed-off-its-rigid-bureaucracy-but-its-employees-want-it-back/