Cleve Francis
cardiologist, musician

Cleve Francis

Cardiologist; President, Mount Vernon Cardiology Associates, Alexandria, Va.; musician.

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We need a 'time-out'

Q: The South Korean government has a problem: Employees are working too much. The average government worker takes only six of 23 vacation days a year. How important is time off? Does productivity suffer or rise when workers forego time off? Should those who opt not to take it be forced to? And does this problem exist in the States?

According to some of my South Korean-American friends, the work stats of South Korean workers are not surprising or troubling. They pointed to a post-war South Korea that made a national commitment to raise itself from a poor nation to one of the strongest countries -- politically, academically and economically -- in the world.

This they have achieved.The hours they have worked and the way they still work are representative of their culture and their nation's long-range objectives. My friends say their long working hours are not the same stressful working hours that we spend in this country. Depending on the type of job, I am told that there is ample time for exercise, meals, family and after-work activities.

In our country, we don't have this national view or purpose. Instead, we are a mix of cultures and generations. We do allow for vast variations in work styles, but only to a certain degree. It is not that we are not patriotic, but here we work for different reasons.

It is more personal with us. Our work actually defines us. It is hard to get through a conversation with anyone before the question of "what do you do for a living?" comes up.
I also suspect that much of our work stress is self-induced because of the things that we "need" and want in relation to others in our society.

Even though the South Koreans work many more hours than we do, it is possible that the stress associated with the hours that we do work results in us working harder than they do. We are not exercising in the square; our lunch breaks are usually only half an hour; and our journey to and from work is very stressful. The weekends do come, but are usually not long enough to allow us to totally unwind before the grind starts again.

In view of the way we work here in the States and the degree of economic dependency we have on our jobs, I don't see us changing these patterns soon. It becomes critical to our physical and mental health that we have time off. Otherwise, we are setting ourselves up for job burnout.

And having burned-out, unmotivated workers is not good for the worker or the productivity of the company (or the nation). I, for one, would be in favor of a vacation mandate, three weeks a year with pay ( including the usual holidays), regardless of the type of work we do. We all need to have personal time, time with family and a change of scenery. We all need a "time-out."

By Cleve Francis  |  April 15, 2010; 12:01 AM ET  | Category:  work and play Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
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I meant being "rich" sorry for the typo. =]

Posted by: cbmuzik | April 19, 2010 11:16 AM
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@dianat2000

I agree that people who allow their jobs to define them are boring as well....TRUST me I do. hahah!

And yet, that comment "our work actually defines us" is a very true statement here in the States. It's a dilemma even the federal government has been trying to tackle by re-educating the American public that they have career options that will sustain them in life as opposed to the usual picks that the 4 yr. institution flood the job market with.

President Obama's administrative aim has been to get more children into community colleges...which is a culture change.

People LOVE to tell others what their "job title" is.

"Thought you'd never ask. I'm a Senior Account Director for Political Affairs..."

"I'm a lawyer for blah, blah, blah law firm..."

"I work for Senator blah, blah, blah..."

"I do an internship for blah, blah, blah big time organization."

But will someone gladly shout out to the world: "Hey! I'm a carpenter and I make $200,000 a yr!? Probably not. It's the thought that people won't look highly on a carpenter. But, socially, it's much more appealing to listen to the choice someone has made to be a doctor, lawyer, political scientist, software developer for a major government contractor, the list goes on. And that directly correlates to our jobs defining who we are, regardless of how boring the job or person may be...lol

So, the assessment stands correct.

I have dated a South Korean, two actually, and this article is very true. Their perception of success is much different than American success. They really work as a unit. That's not seen much in the States.

Capitalism teaches independence. South Korea taught, or still teaches, accomplishment. The final outcome for Americans is prestige or being reach.

The end result for South Koreans is national pride.

So the motivation on either side is totally different to work.

Posted by: cbmuzik | April 19, 2010 11:13 AM
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I'm having a hard time with them comment that 'work defines us'. It may be the case with you but I find people who dedicate their lives to their jobs to be boring, unimaginative, and trite. They have no social skills and seem to have this inflated senses of self. It's a shame.

Posted by: dianat2000 | April 19, 2010 9:38 AM
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South Korea's work ethic also spills over to their schools where education is a valued commodity. Their culture seemingly demands all students work hard to do as well as possible. Wouldn't that be an oddity in this country?

Posted by: phoss1 | April 19, 2010 5:57 AM
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