Staring apocalyptic demographic trends and economic stagnation straight in the face, Japan and South Korea have told some of its workers to go home early.
In South Korea, the Ministry of Health are telling its workers to go home early as part of its worker-wellness experiment. It really says something about your workforce when a government agency forcefully turn off the lights one day a month and send workers home at 7pm, this makes the news.
The Ministry of Health, now sometimes jokingly referred to as the Ministry of Matchmaking, is in charge of spearheading this drive, and it clearly believes its staff should lead by example. Generous gift vouchers are on offer for officials who have more than one child, and the department organises social gatherings in the hope of fostering love amongst its bureaucrats.
Needless to say, it’s got a long way to go in transforming general attitudes towards work in the country. Work-life imbalance aside, many are still aghast at pricey child care and the efforts in providing children with a good education in South Korea.
The comments left behind are the most telling:
The cost of nursery care in Korea can be four times that of a full-time university student’s tuition. Plus, many parents feel compelled by competition to have private tutoring for their kids, even in primary school. An average family spends up to 50% of their income on one child’s education so it’s no wonder only the well-off can have two or more kids, and the poorest can’t even begin to start families. The emphasis on education here is a bit extreme.
I spend quite a bit of time in Seoul on business and I can confirm that the Koreans work extremely long hours. The young software engineers will work till 0300 or 0500 and then stagger in the next day at 1100 ashen faced. Obviously, this leaves no time for procreation. One Wednesday last year they were all sent home at 1800 for a half day and nine months later two babies arrived on the scene. Now, it is company policy to take a half day (ie stop at 6pm) on Wednesdays, but they tend to sneak back in to get working again.
It is normal for women who have a baby to be fired in Korea. Given this situation, women do not want to have a baby. Moreover, the government in Seoul doesn’t say anything to support a family. It’s quite ridiculous.
In Japan, the biggest business organization is asking its 1,600 member companies to let their workers go home early. But it’s a bit of a cat-and-mouse game.
Several firms have organised “family weeks” during which employees must get permission to work past 7pm, but most continue to squeeze every last drop of productivity from their staff. In response, the labour ministry plans to submit a bill exempting employees with children under three from overtime and limiting them to six-hour days.