Relationships Korea 2020 ...As with past three books and those prior, I’ll be sharing chapter by chapter sneak peeks for comments, questions and in many cases your additional and much-needed thoughts. This is the third installment. Missed past 2 posts? Just let me know and I’ll share. Comment welcome. Enjoy.
Favouritism prevails in our society due to strong political, academic and blood ties… It worsens social division, denies fair chances to ordinary people and therefore makes their social mobility more difficult. Chung Seon-sup, Chaebul.com
Relationships are the core of Korean society and business. During a recent Seoul office chat a team member reminded me that Korean communication, too, was based on relationships. Although I am familiar with the Korean language use of honorification and recognize the elevated status, I gained some new insights as my colleague explained how a conversation is shaped by the relationship between the speakers. For example, how one communicates with another person is dependent upon the junior/senior relationship. Honorification is required towards a person who is senior in age or position.
Additionally, my colleague reminded me that while polite and respectful conversation is a plus, the power distance created in the use of honorification could distance co-workers and created inequality, which can be seen as detrimental to a modern workplace.
This conversation then shifted to how these hierarchical power distant relationships in the workplace reinforced by language also lead to a related issue -- strong loyalty with juniors expected to support leadership and visa versa.
In the extreme a loyal subordinate may take the blame for a superior’s actions and even cover for a boss’s questionable activities—a surprisingly common occurrence in Korea. Such loyalty in the past was expected to be rewarded with superiors sharing earned fortunes and opportunities with loyalists.
It is no surprise that to ensure a high level of loyalty, executives, traditionally, hired friends, acquaintances, and classmates to fill the managerial positions below them. Additionally, the persons hired typically were associated with shared alma maters, such as Korea University, Yonsei, Sungkyunkwan,and Seoul National, creating a tight network. This was the rule, not the exception.
Today these past practices are viewed as favoritism and are now under considerable scrutiny. More so, these hires are seen as irregular, circumventing the normal employment procedures others have to follow, and contributing to inequality. However, the main problem with these “prioritized” loyalties is they interfere with hiring and promoting competence, especially in areas requiring expertise.
Seoul JUNE 4, 2018 South Korea’s President Moon Jae-in is struggling to ferret out widespread nepotism and cronyism that has plagued the country for decades after revelations of hiring practices that favor those connected with the wealthy and powerful.
Despite Mr Moon’s reform efforts, allegations of favouritism in the jobs market continue to make headlines, dealing a blow to his key economic policy of boosting growth by creating jobs in the public sector and fuelling discontent among South Korea’s youth.
Nepotism in hiring is politically embarrassing for the liberal government and Mr. Moon, who was elected on a platform of tackling corruption, rooting out cronyism and promoting equality...
Young people’s frustration is building up even under this centre-left administration that is pursuing a fair society free of corruption, said Park Ju-geun, head of corporate analysis group CEO Score.
But experts say Mr Moon faces an uphill battle in stopping favouritism as they suspect unfair hiring practices are even more prevalent in the private sector than in state-funded institutions, because it receives less public scrutiny.
“If favouritism is tolerated, competent human resources are not allocated to the best places, weakening the country’s economic efficiency and social justice,” said Park Sang-in, a professor of public administration at Seoul National University .
Regarding public scrutiny, the tide has turned. Media coverage of what is now seen as unfair practices has been quite extensive. Government agencies, financial institutions and private industry have been cited, with their leadership coming under investigation and being prosecuted.
We see this systemic overhaul to fix unfair hiring practices as another aspect of the change in the Korea workplace. That said, many of these changes such as honorification, seniority, and loyalties are deeply rooted in tradition and practice.
In particular modern Korean society still is challenged to part from the ways of Confucianism--the Confucian emphasis on the importance of the family and the group over the individual that had been extended to South Korean business.
Employees once were expected to regard the workplace as a family, with loyalty to the head of the company as the patriarch who enjoyed exclusive rank, status and privileges. Importance was also placed on attributes such as age, kinship status, gender, education, and sociopolitical standing. All today seen to be in conflict with a modern and fair workplace. Still relationships matter.