Seminar addresses Korean, American work ethics

Asia Ashley Staff Writer

October 25, 2013

Several local businesses and organizations attended the LaGrange-Troup County Chamber of Commerce’s Cultural Awareness Seminar: Korea and America, with hopes of better understanding Korean and American cultures in the workplace.

“We wanted to take some real world examples and see the Korean way and the American way,” said Page Estes, president of the LaGrange-Troup County Chamber of Commerce. “We may not actually have conflicts, but we may just have some communication differences. Maybe looking at it from different perspectives can improve that relationship.”

Korean native Sul Kim, attorney with Constangy, Brooks & Smith, one of the newest chamber members, led the seminar with assistance from Jane Fryer, a former president of of the commerce.

The first part of the seminar included interactive and hypothetical situations and solutions presented from both the Korean and American perspectives.

One of the situations included a manager telling an employee to work overtime, just as their shift has ended.

After group discussions, it was found that most Americans would mention other obligations to their manager before ultimately deciding. A Korean would typically immediately agree to work the overtime.

“We (Americans) schedule our 24 hours, work time and personal time,” said one business representative. “That’s where frustration comes in. We have set times that is our company’s versus times that is ours.”

Another business representative agreed, saying that Koreans at his agency are dedicated to their jobs.

“A 45-48 hour work week, my fellow Koreans see that as a part-time job,” he said.

Kim supported the groups statements.

“Americans put family first over work, Koreans work first as a sacrifice for family which is in a way putting family first,” she said.

Many of the representatives agreed that negotiating contracts with Koreans can be a lengthy process.

Americans generally want their contracts negotiated before it is signed, while Koreans like to negotiate contracts throughout the contract term. One woman mentioned this is likely because Americans in the workplace fear lawsuits.

“Americans like to document everything and Koreans like to go on verbal commitments,” said Kim.

Through more hypothetical situations, Americans and Koreans learned how to appropriately respond to each other in a respectful manner.

In the second part of the seminar, Koreans and Americans separated as Fryer discussed with the Americans some of the hardships Koreans may face. She discussed how slang has made it hard for Koreans to understand Americans, and that most Koreans prefer emailing and writing with Americans than verbal communication due to fear of language barriers.

He Beom Kim, Consulate General of the Republic of Korea in Atlanta, closed the seminar with a brief speech thanking the chamber for the seminar and their interactions with the Korean community.

Georgia Power sponsored the seminar, providing a Korean buffet and American banana pudding for lunch to the attendees.