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Finding Workplace Happiness

Posted January. 02, 2006 03:07,   


Mr. Maeng, a 41-year-old team manager of a large business, attracted five new companies through sales last year. His supervisor praised him. Maeng was happier about his supervisor’s recognition than about his achievement itself. And because his supervisor publicized his achievements, he was even contacted by corporate headhunters.

“Office workers feel invigorated when they get recognition and encouragement from their supervisors,” said Maeng.

In contrast, the New Year’s resolution of Mr. Jeong, a 34-year-old assistant manager of the strategy division in a mid-sized business, is to change his job. He registered with a headhunting agency and took out TOEIC study materials that he had not studied for a long time just because of his immediate supervisor.

He spent several days and nights drawing up a report on the overseas market, but his manager called him back in about 10 minutes. “You made some misspellings. I want you to write it again.” He did, but his manager was still critical, asking, “You don’t know how to space words? What is the point of this table?” He rewrote the report about 20 times, incorporating adjustments to the table’s design and attaching useless supplements before the report was submitted to the department manager.

It was the next day when he decided to change his job. After attending a meeting, the department manager praised Jeong’s report, and then the manager stood up, moving round his chair, and said, “Oh, it was such a tough job! I couldn’t go home for several days preparing for it.”

“High-level officials might change jobs because of the company’s vision and treatment, but for working-level employees like me, it is all about personal relations, especially conflicts with supervisors,” said Jeong.

Office workers’ satisfaction at the workplace, where they spend most of the day, is closely related to their sense of happiness.

In a survey of 501 office workers in seven cities nationwide, four out of 10 respondents said they had “trouble at work due to personal relations.” The highest proportion of those surveyed (34.9 percent) said their “supervisors” made them feel the most exhausted in their workplaces.

Late last year, there was a group discussion on the happiness of office workers in a conference hall of a small-sized enterprise in Dongjak-gu, Seoul. The answers to the question, “What makes you feel the happiest at work?” were the same.

“I do not even expect them to praise me. Not being scolded at work is the best thing, [laugh]” said Mr. Lee (32).

“Having good supervisors is the happiest thing. You cannot resolve problems if your supervisors are irrational,” said Ms. Kwon (35).

It is a very Korean context that relationships with supervisors serve as the biggest factor for happiness or unhappiness at work.

“In advanced countries, supervisors encourage and support their subordinates, while in Korea, they are the direct cause of mental stress,” said Professor Woo Jong-min of the Stress Center of Paik Hospital.

This is because authoritarian organization culture still persists in Korea, and there are no proper channels for dialogue between supervisors and subordinates.

“I once had trouble dealing with unfamiliar tasks, but then my former supervisor gave a phone call to encourage me, ‘You can certainly do it.’ Placing confidence in me and entrusting me with a job is the key to my dedication to work,” said Jang Young-joo (29) of the CS Team at Hana Bank.

Hee-Kyung Kim susanna@donga.com