What did you feel when turning the pages of a calendar for the New Year, or Year of the Horse? Every year, many people will closely examine more than anything the distribution of public holidays, long weekends and traditional holidays on new calendar. Depending on how national holidays and traditional holidays are dated in conjunction with weekends, people come to feel happy or unhappy. It seems that people felt happier in general this year because it is the so-called Golden Year of the Horse, when public and traditional holidays number the most in 12 years.
As expected, the tourism industry is enjoying robust business from early days of the New Year. Flights linking with major overseas destinations in May and June are already in strong demand for reservation. Flight reservations are being booked for trips to destinations not only in shorter distances such as Hong Kong and Taiwan but also in longer distances such as Paris, because many people plan to travel during long holiday weekends by taking a couple of days of their annual leave from work just before and after holidays. Due to the characteristic of the tourism sector that offers a wide variety of promotional products targeting "early bird travelers, the sooner one sets up vacation plans, the better it gets in many ways."
However, not all Koreans can afford to enjoy such luxury. On the contrary, it is still just a dream for many to take a couple of days of their annual leave to take a long vacation. People need huge courage to set vacation plans several months ahead, and save dates for their annual leave to coincide with long holidays, while they must check the boss mood to get off work in time every single day.
According to a survey of 300 Korean companies conducted by the Korea Chamber of Commerce and Industry last year, 61.7 percent of the firms were actively recommending their employees to take leave, through measures such as the implementation of a system promoting the use of annual leave. However, only 25 percent were actually using up their annual leave. Employees were not using their annual leaves that are legally entitled due to "work overload," "lack of substitute manpower," "the need to check the boss mood," and "the mood at their workplace."
"The vacation mystery of Koreans" who are having break primarily in July and August just like great flocks of migrating birds stem from such culture. Massive move of the Korean people, similar to the move made on traditional holidays, happens even during hot summer days as well. Koreans take vacations in a very passive way due to the practice of checking the mood at their workplace mixed with employees sense of guilt (for taking leave). In a recent survey by the online tourism agency, Expedia, Koreans were found to take 10 days of leave per year, the fewest in the world. Of the 10 days, they use just seven days in actuality. As many as 65 percent of the survey respondents said they had to cancel or delay vacation due to work more than once, which was higher than the global average (43 percent), and cooperation for leave use by the boss was at the rock bottom level.
If people take just one annual vacation during the peak vacation season in a year, they can hardly use up even their annual leave. For this reason, companies are struggling to find a solution to all annual leave that are unused by their employees at years end every year. However, except companies whose top managers boldly changed leave policy with strong commitment, the deep-rooted, inflexible work culture is changing at a snails pace. Leave taken anytime throughout the year will not only help galvanize domestic consumption, including the tourism industry, but also improve labor productivity in the long term. At a time when creative thinking is emphasized than any time in the past, a fresh shift of paradigm is needed for the vacation issue as well. It is hoped that Korea finds a clue to solving the vacation mystery of Koreans that is repeated every hot summer.