Koreans really do work long hours

I just got home from work.  Yes, I spent another long evening at the office.  I intended to go in yesterday for a few hours so I didn’t have to work late tonight.  Alas, I could not drag myself into the office on such a beautiful day.  Fortunately, I think this will be the only night this week when I need to work late.  I finished a couple of big projects that have been in work for months, and I got a good start on some new material that my boss will present to the Powers That Be when he returns to the United States later this month.  I’m excited that he will be taking the fruits of my labor on a roadshow.  Today was the busiest day I have seen since I moved to my new job.  Perhaps the holiday yesterday brought everyone out en masse.  I didn’t get much done during the day other than helping people.  Spending evenings at work isn’t fun, but often it’s the only time you can find time to get the job done.
The October 3rd edition of BusinessWeek Magazine features a great article analyzing what most Americans already suspect–many of us work more hours than we did just a few years ago.  It’s a great article; I highly recommend giving it a read.  Its hypothesis is that although work productivity is up, and workers have more tools at their disposal than ever to get the job done, there are more managers per worker than ever, and the old style of managing employees is impeding the development of global, dynamic employee networks.  The "Old school" or Dilbert’ "Pointy Hair Boss" style of management tends to emphasize micromanaging employees, engaging in "death by meeting," requiring layer after layer of management approval, submitted in triplicate and reported ad nauseum to all stakeholders, whether they care or not.  This hinders the free flow of information between employees who collaborate through network-style organizations.  This summarization of course is caricaturized.  However, it highlights the fact that Americans continue to work longer hours, and BusinessWeek offers some practical reasons why and possible solutions to mitigate this trend.
There’s good news and bad news for American workers.  Although American workers now work more hours per worker than any other G-8 nation, Korean workers work 30.4% more hours than their American counterparts.  That’s the good news.  The bad news is that between 1991 and 2004, Koreans worked on average 5% fewer hours, while Americans worked just 1.4% fewer hours.  According to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), here are the number of hours per worker in 2004 for select countries featured in the BusinessWeek article:
  1. Korea, 2,380 hours
  2. United States, 1,825 hours
  3. Japan, 1789 hours
  4. Great Britain, 1,669 hours
  5. Germany, 1443 hours
  6. France, 1,441 hours
  7. Netherlands, 1,357 hours

I frequently hear in Korea how hard Koreans work.  I do not know what the average productivity rate is for Koreans and can’t comment on whether Koreans work harder than Americans.  Working hard is product of both productivity per hour and the number of hours worked.  However, the statistic above shows that the average Korean works long, long hours.  A friend of mine who works for a major chaebol, or Korean conglomerate, logs an average of 14-hours per day at work and works on weekends.  The good news for Koreans is that the number of hours per worker worked each year has steadily declined since 1991.  Many Koreans no longer work half days on Saturday and head home earlier. 


Americans also work long hours.  BusinessWeek mentions that although the number of hours worked has decreased for traditional "blue-collar" workers in recent decades, the number has actually increased for office workers.  That’s why many of us feel like we’re working more than ever.  As America transforms from a manufacturing economy to a service economy, the tendency to work longer hours in the office intensifies.  I just hope we never work as many hours as Koreans do.

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