My weekend read.... Generational influences in the Korean workplace 2018.
Today we are witnessing an increasing generational divide in the Korea workplace. Many firms are adapting to this change, as the workforce is increasingly a younger generation.
Much of the change is driven by the Old Guard vs. the New Guard. The Old Guard, people in the 60s and 70s, holds to values and norms once common business practices in Korea. With the rise of the New Guard, the older generation is increasingly marginalized as well as their influence.
This marginalization has accelerated with the latest round of Chaebol family succession well underway. As before with succession of the Chaebol Founders to the second generation of family control, which mostly occurred in the mid-1990s, all now is moving into the third generation These heirs in the 40s are at the helm at Samsung, Hyundai Motor Group, and LG (as recent as this last week), etc.
In fact, as a prelude to the recent successions we’ve seen the exiting of older senior management, most stepping down and into retirement.
In turn, key management and trusted advisors surrounding these Chaebol heirs are now of the same generation, too. Few of this new Gen of leaders look to the past taking on more progressive norms and the future.
Between these groups, we find a layer of managers and executives described by the term “sandwiched” -- used to denote a generation now in their late 40s and into the late 50s.
This age group has social, workplace and political views influenced by western education and work abroad that differ from those of the older generation of people in their 60s and 70s.
But in many ways, their values, which emphasize the importance of collective organizations such as work, nation, and society, are still similar to those of the Old Guard generation.
As a result, the “sandwiched” group’s mentality often clashes with the younger generation whose top priority is individual freedom.
As one “sandwiched” executive shared “When I was a rookie, I didn’t have any choice but to be quiet when I had an issue or I disagreed with my superiors. But nowadays, the younger generation boldly express their opinions in the workplace.”
A Changing Workplace
The introduction of the “team system” and western norms by many Korean companies to address issues of a hierarchy system and to improve efficiency has increased the difficulty for the Old Guard to give direct orders to younger workers.
As noted a veteran manager, “Many young workers don’t recognize the authority of their seniors. They often say ‘we are all members of a team. No more, no less’.”
In turn, this younger generation now expects management to emulate this norm of open discussion and expression—a behavior that Old Guard also find unacceptable and improper.
Adding to the challenge, the younger generation sees many faults in both “sandwiched” managers and well as the Old Guard.
For example, the younger group argues that both older generations often erroneously blame others for problems. “They don’t realize the real problem. They are really stubborn and pigheaded. They are not ready to listen to younger workers even when the facts may contradict their decisions.”
“They keep saying that we have to do this and that, but they never set a good example for us. Naturally, we don’t respect them at all,” said a young Seoul professional.
An Internal Challenge
Similar to today's organizations in America, Korean organizations are presented with the internal challenge of creating harmony and cohesiveness among multi-generational employees.
Individuals from each generation (i.e. traditionalist, baby boomer, Generation X, or Generation Y) bring divergent values, beliefs, attitudes, and expectations based on their life experiences.
These multi-generational labels may not be used exactly the same in Korea, but the issues that Korean organizations face caused by the gap between different generations are the same.
Individuals of each generation group grew up in the same time period witnessing and participating in common historical events as well as political and economic changes.
Therefore, these individuals with similar frames of reference have an easier time building bonds and working together in harmony than working with individuals from other generation groups.
The particular characteristics of each generation deeply influence how employees think about many aspects of organizational behavior, such as motivation, satisfaction, creativity, innovation, loyalty, commitment, and teamwork.
This accentuates the importance of understanding the distinctive characteristics of each generation group in order to engender successful outcomes.
Bottom line when working with Korean teams and leadership look to their generation as a lens to better understand their life views and mindsets-- the New Guard leading the way.