A culture that begins early in life © AFP

Over consecutive days you had two excellent reports covering the same issue of “work style” in South Korea (“ Seoul fights back against workaholic culture”, July 3) and Japan (“ Abe wrestles to recast magic formula at heart of Japanese workplace”, Global Insight, July 4). This concerned the blight of excessive working hours — in South Korea, 2,059 hours annually, some 51.8 per cent higher than Germany (2016) — and its detrimental impact. This includes the effect on work-life balance, the Korean worabael to the infamous Japanese karoshi — death by overwork. The state in both countries is tackling this problem via legislation.

It was a pity the reports did not at least reference their commonalities. Also, how effective and enforced, or even enforceable, these worthy changes in the law will be in practice is a moot question for both countries. This is due to deeply ingrained national and corporate culture and practices that traditionally rewarded such behaviours as long hours, starting early in life in education and the hagwon after-school crammers in South Korea. Such cultures are slow-moving and add inertia to the institutional and legal changes in both Asian countries where few employees even think of legally challenging employers, unlike perhaps other countries we are more familiar with.

Prof Chris Rowley
Kellogg College,
University of Oxford, UK

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