Work life

World of HR: South Korean government abandons 69-hour workweek plan

Working more could hurt employee health and well-being.
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Francis Scialabba

· 3 min read

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In a world where the four-day workweek is gaining popularity, one country tried to make it easier for citizens to work more. It didn’t go so well.

Where in the world? South Korea is known for its music and cinema, but also for its long workweeks. The country already has a 52-hour maximum workweek, and its citizens work more than almost any other nation, according to OECD. Nevertheless, Labor Minister Lee Jung-sik wanted to raise the maximum to 69 hours as part of a strategy to address the country’s labor shortage caused by an aging population, Vice reported. The plan would have increased the maximum number of overtime hours allowed from 12 to 29.

While that may sound like too much work and not enough play, Yoon claimed it would improve citizen quality of life, according to NBC News. The government posited that the more a person is allowed to work, the more overtime-enabled PTO they would receive, therefore allowing extended leave. South Koreans weren’t buying it, and trade unions and young people criticized the government, saying it would harm an already overworked population. The nation’s workaholic culture is already blamed for numerous deaths every year, and young people are pushing back against the “live to work” way of life, CNN reported.

Employers in South Korea expect employees to work longer hours to accommodate more work, rather than taking on the expense of hiring extra employees, Lee Jong-sun, a professor of labor relations at Korea University told the Washington Post. “Hiring new people means more benefits, insurance, and more wages. It’s more expensive,” he said.

The pushback against the proposal ultimately succeeded, and on March 16, Yoon said President Yoon Suk-yeol had “ordered government agencies to reconsider the 69-hour proposal,” according to Vice.

Satellite view. Japan, France, and the US are also searching for solutions to a shrinking workforce and changing jobs landscape. But some argue that pushing existing employees to work more isn’t the answer. In fact, it can have the opposite effect to what is intended. Working 55 hours per week or more is associated with higher incidences of early death caused by heart disease and stroke, according to a 2021 joint report from the World Health Organization and International Labor Organization. People who work more than 50 hours see a plateau, then a decline in productivity beyond 65 hours, according to a UC Berkeley survey. Instead, some experts say employers should focus on autonomy and flexibility.

“Giving people the autonomy to create their own schedule demonstrates a level of trust, and that has shown to really boost morale and productivity,” Mike Shekhtman, senior regional director at Robert Half, told the Financial Post.

We’ll keep an eye out and let you know where anti-hustle culture takes hold next.

HR is challenging. HR news doesn’t have to be.

News built to help HR pros grow their impact & improve the future of work.