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Work can be the death of you

Company Strategy, Managing people, South Korea
By John Richardson on 29-Jul-2008

My dear old mother used to often say “what’s the world coming to?” as if life was constantly getting worse.

But for South Korean workers – and for workers everywhere in Asia – expectations of employers have long been unreasonable. Tied into this is loyalty, “face”, pride and ridiculously long and often unproductive hours that drive workers to breakdown – and sadly suicide.

Click her for a story about an innovative solution from Samsung where employees have signed up in droves (they have overbooked) for courses where they enact their own funerals. The idea is to make stressed workers think through what death means and all the problems they would leave behind if they took their own lives.

Also click here for an extraordinary gallery of pictures from the FT.

All very laudable, but shouldn’t employers everywhere kick over the cultural traces, take the pressure off profit growth and reduce the constant pressure on workers to run ever-harder just to stand still? Is it up to ethical shareholders to also take a haircut and demand better working conditions?

Take a leaf from Google where the freedom to relax, to enjoy and to think – the result of a relaxed workplace environment where people are not obliged to sit around in suits terrified to speak out of turn – has led to one of the world’s most creative and successful companies.

This could lead to higher rather than lower earnings and not just in the trendy IT sector where relaxed work culture is the norm. As climate challenges multiply, the chemicals industry will need to be just as innovative to prosper – a theme I’ll be touching on constantly over the coming months.

But can you magine any Asian CEO using a slide – such as the one in the picture above from the Google offices in Zurich – to descend to a meeting?

Or is there a new guard of younger Asian executives ready to take over who regard employee welfare, creativity and profitability as interconnected?