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Understanding K-Drama: Office Life

BY Julie Jones | Oct 28, 2014 02:55 PM EDT

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Plenty of k-dramas take place in an office setting. "Misaeng" is the latest office k-drama and perhaps the most brutal in its dramatic portrayal of office bullying and abuse. But other k-dramas also exaggerate different aspects of office life.

For example, what are the odds of working in an office with two attractive men such as Ji Sung and Kim Jaejoong, Choi Kang Hee's bosses in "Protect The Boss?" And having both of them want to date you? It's not likely anywhere. If that were an accurate indicator of Korean office personnel, international recruitment would rise dramatically.

One thing that is not exaggerated in office k-dramas is the long working hours. Remember Kim Young Kwang and Kyung Soo Jin working together in a darkened office in "Nine Plus Boys? Or Im Si Wan sleeping at his desk in "Misaeng?"

Working late is a real feature of office life, as Koreans are famous for their strong work ethic. Korea has one of the highest annual average number of work hours per week and also the highest number of overtime hours. The law now limits the workweek to five days and 40 hours, but many employees will still work into the evening hours. The average actual workweek may actually be closer to 50 hours.

What else should you know about office life in Korea? Many dramas feature temporary workers, who do not yet have a real job at a company. Good examples are the "post-it girl" Jang Nara in "Fated To Love You," fledgling designer Moon Geun Young in "Cheomdamdong Alice" and conscientious worker Lee Ha Na in "High School King of Manners." These workers often put in extra effort in the hope of landing a permanent job.

Their extra effort also reflects a reality of Korean office life. In the past most women working in office were temporary workers but in recent years many temps, both women and men, graduate to full time jobs.

Many Koreans work as temps for two years before receiving a permanent position. And the number of temporary and contract workers is growing. According to a recent article in Yonhap News, the number of temporary and contract workers grew to an all-time high  during the summer of 2014.

Contracts are a feature in many k-dramas, whether they concern personal debt, romantic relationships or business. In Korea contracts may be viewed differently than they are in other countries. They are seen as more of a starting point rather than the final goal of an ongoing negotiation. That flexibility can benefit the worker or work against him.

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