Sunday, July 29, 2018

Gapjil and the Attack on Bullying

Gapjil ― bullying employees or forcing employees to be at one’s beck and call. A phenomenon associated with the hierarchical nature of Korean society and work culture.

This week we look at one of the more hard-hitting issues.  As in past three posts, please feel free to share your comments. All welcome and appreciated.

Don Southerton author Korea 2020

Constant change is a trait of the Korean workplace. Most often change is initiated within the company as top down leadership mandates. Corporate restructuring within the major Korean Groups is common.
Shuffling of teams within departments and divisions annually is expected. That said, other factors contributing to change in the workplace today are outside forces, including the media and whistleblowers prompted by inappropriate actions by those in power in both the government and the private sector.

One not-so-surprising change is the growing push back and reporting of the strong arm or gapjil tactics in the workplace. One of the reasons is the heightened press coverage over instances of bullying by the members of the South Korean elite and privileged family businesses.

Linguistically, gapjil is a uniquely Korea term… and provides a look into Korea culture. The word, a newly coined term, is a colloquial expression referring to the arrogant or authoritarian attitude by someone in a position of power over others. The Korean culture of high power distance and strong hierarchical organizations have shaped and reinforced these attitudes. Sadly, gapjil is so much a part of the culture that we find individuals as subordinates on the receiving end of bullying-type situations guilty of the same actions to those below them.
Owner Gapjil is the most common type of gapjil and the one drawing considerable media attention. In this scenario representatives or executive family members of a company treat their employees with contempt, using abusive language or even assault. Owner Gapjil reflects the mistaken view that employers can treat employees however they want because of the extreme vertical relationship between the two individuals.
The controversy and public scrutiny arise as Koreans become increasingly intolerant of the country’s biggest conglomerates, or chaebol, whose executives often act with impunity. The December 2014 “nut rage” incident gained worldwide attention and notoriety. The controversy centered on the overt belittling of a senior attendant by airline executive Heather Cho, daughter of the Korean Air Chairman, over the pre-flight serving of nuts, on board a departing Korean Air flight from NY’s JFK International Airport. The subsequent attempt by the Cho family and Korean Air to coerce employees to cover up the incident only added to public outrage. Similar “rages” continue to surface, adding to the fury over entitlement behavior among Korea’s elites.

Workplace Bullying
Workplace gapjil incidents have gone viral and Koreans have now started to perceive this as a serious problem. Previously, these incidents might have been dismissed or never reported for fear of retribution.
Studies report that the most frequently observed bullying behaviors are arrogant and crude language, abrupt task assignments, rejection of opinions, discrimination and character assassination.
On the positive note, public scrutiny has forced more companies to become sensitive to the issue and openly address complaints of bullying. Also, workers subject to abuse in the past are now speaking out in social media and reporting cases to whistle-blower sites.
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