WHY WON’T THEY TAKE A BREAK?
Five years ago, your company assigned you to a management position in its new research facility in South Korea. You were thrilled with the promotion, and grateful to your bosses, who recognized your skills and talents. At the same time, there was a lot to be nervous about—adjusting to a new culture and language, finding a school for your kids and a job for your wife, figuring out where to buy familiar groceries. But even with all the struggles, you’ve thoroughly enjoyed your time in Korea, as you got to learn new things from your employees and teach them new things from your experiences. In fact, you’re quite surprised that you’ve had such little conflict with your Korean associates.
There is, however, one area that you could never quite get a handle on—v acation time. Like every other employee in the company, your employees were given three weeks of paid vacation per year. But, other than the occasional three-day weekend, they never took any time off. At first, you wondered if this was just unique to your company. But then, you saw statistics that showed that Koreans, on average, worked more than 2,300 hours per year, 600 more than the average American. While these long hours show great organizational commitment, they have extremely negative effects. Overworked employees are more prone to stress and physical illness and are less likely to be efficient or productive. Indeed, according to the Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development, an international group comprised of 30 of the world’s largest economies, South Korea ranks near the bottom in terms of productivity.
Even the South Korean government has taken notice of the dangers of overwork. A few months ago, President Myung Bak Lee announced that all state employees would be required to take 16 days of vacation per year. You were quite happy to hear about this policy, and hopeful that it would influence the private sector. But, you also wonder if there aren’t other changes needed. From your conversations with Korean managers, you’ve learned that there is one big reason why Korean employees don’t take vacation time—because their supervisors don’t take vacation time. Even while requiring government employees to take 16 days off, President Lee himself has taken off only four days since his 2008 election. Jin-soo Kim, a director in the Ministry of Public Administration who wrote the 16-day policy, took no vacation time at all in 2008. Even you, the “enlightened” American, remember working through Lunar New Year’s Day, one of the biggest holidays in Korea.
You desperately want your employees to take more time off. It’s what’s best for them, their families, and for the company’s productivity and efficiency. What is the best way to motivate them to take a break?
Source: Evan Ramstad and Jaeyeon Woo “South Korea Works Overtime To Tackle Vacation Shortage” The Wall Street Journal. March 1, 2010. A1, 22.
- Which motivation theory(s) do you think would help communicate the importance of vacation time to your employees?
- How would you convince your employees that working less hours, not more, is more beneficial for them and the company?