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Korean Corporate Culture in the Eyes of Expats
Date : 2014-07-22

Korean Corporate Culture in the Eyes of Expats

Guk-Young Jin(Global Business Group Vice-president)
Careercare Newsletter(July, 2014)




Korea is at ‘The War for Talent’. The demand for global talents of Korean companies has been sharply increased in recent years. The Korean government has announced its plan to attract and retain more qualified global professionals. Accordingly, the number of expats with the E7 visa type, which can be issued only to skilled professionals, has been increased.

David Steel, Planning and PR team leader at Samsung, has been working for Samsung for 18 years since 1997. Having shown excellent track records, in 2002 he became the first non-Korean executive at Samsung Electronics. And later he was promoted to Senior Executive Director. Now he is based in North America leading the copyright battles with Apple. However, his successful story in Korean company is rather a rare case. Leaving Korean firms within their two-year contract period is more commonly seen.

A survey conducted to twenty-four Korean companies revealed that 80% of the companies were satisfied with their foreign employees’ performances. Their average employment period, however, was only about one year. Among those have worked for a year, only half of them have extended the contract. One of the main reasons appears to be the adjustment failure to the Korean corporate culture.

‘Glassdoor’ is a career community site where people can post and view company ratings, reviews and reports. Some feedbacks on the Korean companies are also available. There you can clearly sense the different features of Korean corporate culture compared to those of other nations. One of the very recognizable differences is on work-life balance. Korean firms have received poor marks in this category. When there is a need and demand, Korean employees work on weekends and holidays, not to mention working till late hours. Oftentimes personal life ends up taking a back seat.

However, with this work ethic and spirit, Korea has become one of the world’s strongest economies overcoming the poverty of the war-torn nation in the 1950s. While this speedy economic development of Korea has been praised, most of the foreign professionals who have worked at Korean companies express their dissatisfaction about the work-life imbalance. They find themselves working for too long hours and little time gets left for their personal lives.

The expats in Korea also talks about the different communication style. A sales manager at LG Electronics wrote on ‘Glassdoor’ that Korean companies have “absolutely stupid military-style culture.” It mocks the Korean corporate culture where one has to be absolutely obedient to one’s boss. A non-Korean programmer at LG Electronics also commented that there is no communication and only military-like orders exist. An American employee who has worked at Samsung Electronics said that only the highest person gets to talk; the rest can talk only when the highest person asks a question.

A work dinner culture in Korea is not a familiar concept to many non-Korean professionals, either. Being considered as a part of one’s work, it is oftentimes obligatory to attend, which is quite different from that of western countries.

There are some positive feedbacks about Korean companies. Michael Kocken from Australia has worked in Korea for 5 years now and he thinks that the biggest attraction of Korean companies is warm-hearted and affectionate colleagues. They go to lunch together, attend each other’s family occasions such as wedding, first birthday party of baby and funeral. Kocken says the warm and friendly people at his work place are the favorite part of his experience with Korean companies. He also mentions that Korea has a good salary and welfare package, compared to other Asian companies.

One cannot say which corporate culture is right or better. Each has its own origins of the culture affected by its history and society. And it has contributed tremendously to the development of companies and country which it belongs to.

The Korean government predicts that the number of expats in the country will keep increasing for some time, and asserts that retaining those global talents will be an important task for the inviting firms. Samsung Electronics run a Global Helpdesk to support expat employees and their families. Doosan Heavy Industries has a special community for expat executives. Other companies are also trying to implement various programs to ensure non-Korean professionals are well adjusted and successfully settle into the new environment.

The Global Business Division of CareerCare is playing an important role in that aspect as it focuses on recruiting foreign professionals and executives. Consultants at the Division not only have been educated and lived outside of Korea but have worked for Korean companies. And this can help expat professionals settle successfully into the Korean companies.






CAREERCARE
Careercare is the largest recruiting and executive search firm in the Korean market for the last 15 years. It is time for us to make a new leap forward. With our three core values, ‘Respect People’, ‘Differentiate the Differences’, and ‘Social Responsibility’, we are giving more efforts to achieve the vision of ‘Advance through Talent’.

 

 

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