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Management reports, briefs issued by Samsung Economic Research Institute

How to Balance Work with Life

How to Balance Work with Life


June 26, 2006

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Traditionally, Koreans have placed their work above the quality of life. This tradition may be changing, as more people seek the so-called 'work-life balance,' a notion about reconciling paid work with personal life. In the Korean General Social Survey (KGSS), conducted by the Sungkyunkwan University in 2005, 59.9% of respondents said they wanted to spend more time with families; and 57.3% said they wanted more time for leisure.

Reduction of working hours has raised expectations for a better work-life balance. Korea has the reputation of having the longest working hours in the world, but its statutory and real working hours have gradually dropped. Extending the five-day work-week into companies with more than 100 workers from July 2006 will further fuel Korean workers?demand for a better quality of life.

A considerable number of Koreans also believe that their employers should step up efforts to improve the work-life balance. When asked whether their companies have the responsibility for creating a family-friendly workplace such as in-house nurseries, a whopping 88% of the respondents in the survey said yes. The survey showed that college graduates and workers in their 30s emphasized the company's responsibility for promoting family-friendly working environment more than any other age groups.

However, many Korean workers believe their companies have not made sufficient efforts to enhance their work-life balance. In the KGSS survey, 66% said companies in Korea have done little or nothing to balance professional responsibilities with personal life. In this context, workers and their employers may find their relations worsening.

A better work-life balance can be achieved when workers are doing well at work and home. This is why employers need to have effective work-life balance programs at their companies. There are more than 100 types of work-life balance programs now available, divided into three categories: 1) flexible work program, 2) family support program, and 3) personal support program.

These programs may benefit the government as well as workers and their companies. For instance, the government can use them as a tool to deal with problems like declining fertility rate and aging population. Companies may enhance their competitiveness by allowing workers to enjoy a better quality of life.

Companies nowadays emphasize quality over quantity, knowledge over equipment, creativity over industriousness. They are increasingly aware of the role that work-life balance programs play in attracting and retaining talented employees. A work-life balance program can only succeed when companies voluntarily implement it. In other words, they will not be able to sustain such programs if they are forced to adopt them.

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