South Korea Update: Vaccination Rollout, COVID Impacting Women More, Sick Leave Hits Cultural Barriers, and a 4-Day Work Week

February 18, 2021

South Korea is set to begin its national vaccination program next week as the country wrestles with high unemployment numbers which have impacted Korean women more than male colleagues.  
 
COVID Vax Rollout Starts February 26:  South Korea’s vaccination drive is set to begin on February 26 – a bit slower than the country had been hoped due to questions about supply and vaccine effectiveness.  Like in other major economies, South Korea will begin the program with a focus on healthcare workers and high-risk populations and the aim is to hit 760K individuals by the end of Q1 2021.  HR executives with a presence in South Korea should keep tabs on the vaccination rollout as it will influence return to office plans.  HR Policy Global will monitor and provide updates as progress occurs.    
 
Seoul Mayoral Candidates Float Campaign on 4-Day Work Week:   The Korea Herald reports that a four-day work week is shaping up to be a key issue in the Seoul Mayoral campaign with multiple candidates adopting a four, or 4.5 day work week as part of the their platform.  According to the candidates, the changes would help with the work-life balance for citizens of the city while creating more jobs.  Interestingly, a 4-day work week would require a legislative change at the national level and so the candidates have floated using incentive programs and other support to cut down on the number of workdays.  
 
While this might be a long-shot to be implemented, the discussion about the transition to a four-day work week in Seoul – Korea’s largest city by population – is notable.  HR executives with a presence in Korea should keep a pulse on this and HR Policy Global will help in doing so.   
 
Young Women Impacted Most in South Korea by COVID Economy:  Female recipients of unemployment benefits are up nearly 50% compared to the same period in 2020 according to the Korea Employment Information Service.  The number was higher than males and displayed an on-year growth of 40.6%.  The hardest hit segment was women in the 20s age range which filled many service positions which were impacted hardest by the COVID-economy.  Companies operating within Korea should be aware of the trends for workforce planning and talent management.  
 
Sick Leave Faces Cultural Barriers:  A Korean cultural stigma for taking sick leave has been brought into focus during the COVID-19 pandemic according to an interesting article published in the Korea Herald.  The article discusses the implied pressure placed on Korean workers for not being sick due to pushing more burdens on co-workers or losing needed income.  And while the Korean Government has announced a plan for guaranteed sick pay, but according to the article, the plan will not be into place for another two years.  
 
The themes in the article bring into focus the importance of company culture and adequate workforce planning and the unique challenges in some Asian Markets.  Korea, like Japan, can have cultural norms which devalue a work-life balance.  Companies with a presence in Korea can take the lead in communicating the work-place acceptance of benefits like sick leave by encouraging their use and being consistent in that communication.