What’s different about the Korean Corporate Culture

South Korea

Corporate culture is can be defined as the way workers behave in a business organisation. They are considered the rules or normal of an organisation and are largely based on beliefs, values and attitudes of management. It represents the character or personality of an organisation. Culture refers to the subjective views of society, which are largely shaped by beliefs, attitudes, and historical processes of people in various parts of the world. Culture plays a very prominent role in ingraining ideologies in the company’s work culture. South Korea is an East Asian country with an intriguing culture, markedly different from the western counterpart, and with certain similarities with the Chinese and Japanese counterparts. The Korean corporate culture has grown as a byproduct of the Confucianism, or the Chinese way of thinking. The culture intensively values education, innovation and company loyalty, highlighting the importance of respect for elders, personal dignity, social status, harmony and collectivism among other beliefs.

Geert Hofstede’s theory on various aspects of corporate culture and international culture can be employed for revealing the features of the Korean culture. The Korean culture has been seen to value collectivism more than individualism, requiring employees to conform to the conventions of society, rather than presenting conflicting ideas, in a bid to curb threats of stakeholder conflict. This is succinctly different from the American culture, which seeks to promote individualism in the workers. This was proven by a research that determined the individualism score of South Korea to be a mere 18, out of 100. The Power distance focuses on a centralised and autocratic decision making, where the senior leaders are valued more than the people in a lower hierarchy. The employees are expected to value the social, corporate, age etc. hierarchy while working for a company. According to Charles Handy’s theory on organisational culture, the Korean culture represents an Apollo — Role culture where the power of the employee is directly proportional to the formal position held by them. This is evident from several traditional practices that are still followed in offices, with inequality and power being the fundamental aspects of the society. Korean companies usually are long-term in orientation, who sought to build loyal relationships with employees and a collectivist attitude in the society. They value commitment to a great extent, which incorporates appreciation of longer and appropriate working hours of employees. According to Goffee and Jones double-S model, it reflects a very sociable culture that focuses on deliberations, negotiations, and consultations before a decision is taken, thus resulting in delays for the company, because the opinions of all employees are taken into account, but the final decision is taken by a few. In some situations, they represent inert cultures, because of their reluctance to accept ‘English’ as a mode of communication between peer. This forces the employees to adapt to the change and be bound by traditional practices in the dynamic business environment. According to Edgar’s theories on corporate culture, the shared basic assumptions in the Korean culture broadly encompass the act of, greeting coworkers in a right order, create friendships, other non-verbal behavioural etiquettes, etc. The artefacts include a formal dress code for both men and women in all branches of the company, with little room for personal choice. The exchanging of business cards, practice of gift-giving, corporate lunches are highly valued for forging relations between employees and nurturing a long-term relationship.

Stakeholders includes the people, who have a direct or indirect interest in the functioning of the business and are affected by the operation of business. Internal stakeholders refer to the people who are the members of the organisation. Employees or staff have a stake in the business they work for. Managers and Directors include the employees in a higher hierarchy, who oversee the daily operations of the business, and maximise the profits.

Stakeholder mapping is a tool that shows the relative interest and power of different stakeholders of an organisation. This helps us in ascertaining the fact that the Korean culture, where it is expected that the managers and directors receive the most attention, and consequently have greater degree of power than their counterparts in a lower hierarchy. This corporate culture can pose a problem for migrant workers, and in some cases, attempts to replicate this model in foreign offices has failed miserably, leading to stakeholder conflicts and other corporate issues. This had led to unsatisfied workers, cultural clashes, misunderstandings and miscommunications, and other compromises in the human resources of the company. This could also potentially hamper the productivity of workers, high labor turnover, absenteeism, and result in stress reacted issues among others.

Globalisation and westernisation have resulted in an inclination towards innovation fuelled through increasing competition, independence, equality and other contemporary management ideas. As companies enter international markets, and operate in a dynamic business environment with a diverse workforce, necessary amendments must be adjusted into the corporate policy by becoming an adaptive culture, encouraging entrepreneurial avenues, and not binding them to fixed codes of conduct and rules. The Korean corporate culture is largely driven by the national culture, which makes it difficult for foreign workers for adjustment, however, the growing competition in the labor market forces workers to be adaptive to circumstances and change. Thus, corporate policy should still be guided by the national culture, fostering a positive outlook, however, also considering the opinions of workers should be encouraged.

Student at Kiit International School. Passionate about research in business, political science, current affairs and economics.