Gwarosa – death by overworking

South Korea’s work culture was notorious for its rigid hierarchy as there is the demand for obedience and loyalty. Many of the newer start-ups had promised a change to a more open, horizontal culture that allowed for a better work-life balance. However, there has been evidence that the old ways are prevalent in the startups as well.

Marco Kwak, a former employee of a start-up, explained his experiences. He said that on the outside it seemed as though it had a typical start-up culture where employees were allowed to wear shorts and address each other by their self-made English names. Typically, colleagues would have to address each other using their hierarchical job titles. Kwak detailed of a time when he was getting ready to head home but was suddenly called over to his desk by his manager. His manager asked him if he saw others working, would he still want to go home? Kwak was scolded for not having enough passion for the company and was told to sit at his desk for an hour even if he didn’t have any more work to do.

Misaeng was a popular TV drama that came out in 2014 that highlighted the conservative corporate culture. It showed the frequent overtime, the office hierarchy, verbal and even physical abuse, sexual harassment and workplace bullying.

South Korean adults work the second-longest hours but earn less-than-average pay compared to other nations. The long hours even start at a young age with children often spending as much as 14 hours a day in a classroom between regular school and private, afternoon academics.

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