7 benefits of working in South Korea as a foreigner employee

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The negative aspects of Korean corporate culture such as the notorious overtime hours, low annual wages and poor productivity in white-collar roles often overshadow the positive aspects of a Korean workplace. Korean companies do have some really awesome policies and benefits which are comparable to the well-publicised dream benefits of companies like Google.

Now, most of the following points cover medium to large Chaebol Korean companies which are for obvious reasons the most desired employers in Korea. Small companies and offices are unlikely to have all of the following benefits but that doesn’t mean they won’t have some of the following.

Here is my experience with the benefits of working in South Korea:

Investment in Education

Koreans love to learn and more to the point love to spend money on learning – and Korean companies are no different. As a staff member of a Korean company, you will get the opportunity to take advantage of a range of self-development programs which will allow you to participate in workshops, attend seminars or even register for language courses. Other educational benefits, not always advertised by Korean companies, are that most will sponsor MBA programs annually for highly rated staff. For long serving staff they even fund school fees from kindergarten to university for their kids – this alone can be a benefit worth tens of thousands a year on top of normal wages. My previous company, for example, set the benefit limit to 7 years of service – so staff that had stayed on for 7 years or longer had their children’s school fees paid by the company (even those in private school). So if you’re worried about providing a college education for your kids then just sign up to a Korean company for life! (or 7 – 10 years)

Supporting Staff Hobby and Sporting Groups

Korean companies although demanding of your free time are actually surprisingly supportive of staff hobby groups and teams. It’s actually more part of their strategy to have their workers bond and become ‘family’ like in their relationship. Typical groups that are funded are baseball teams, fishing groups, mountain hiking groups. Funds usually cover the cost of meals for the group and other necessities such as registration fees/uniforms. Not only that but as part of many Korean companies self-development programs they will cover their workers’ gym membership fee’s or in cases like my old company have a staff gym available in the office building!

Free Lunch!

Now, who doesn’t like a free lunch? Most Korean companies big and small provide lunch in someway or another. Larger companies will usually have a restaurant/cafe on site that will serve a variety of options for lunch. The bigger the company the better the food on offer and it doesn’t just stop at lunch some companies will even provide for breakfast and dinner as well! Of course, these are tactics to keep you at the office longer but hey for a young guy living alone eating at the office sure beats cooking at home – especially considering companies hire nutritionists to plan weekly menu’s and ensure staff are eating healthy!

So if you thought getting served lunch was good then it gets better because most Korean companies will allow an hour for lunch (even if you are eating at the company cafeteria) so that means on average you are getting an extra 40 minutes to use how you would like! A lot of staff use this time to grab a coffee, have a smoke, go to the gym or even attend language classes. Lunch is also always a communal affair and provides a great way for staff to mingle and communicate with other staff and departments (although this doesn’t always occur) regardless it sure beats eating a sandwich at your desk.

Healthy Workers are Happy Workers

FULL health insurance is standard as part of a Korean workers compensation package but what this usually also includes is regular physical checkups; monthly nurse visits to the office and sometimes even a personal trainer on site. A pretty good benefit especially for someone looking to improve their health or lose some weight!

Staff Dinners / Drinks

Depending on your age and where you are in life this can be an awesome benefit or an absolute hell. If only held on exclusively Friday’s then it would be perfect but Korean companies will encourage and pay for regular staff dinners and drinks and not just the cheap stuff – some items of choice that I was able to sample thanks to my previous company included Korean AAA-grade beef, lobster, sashimi, even a 5 star restaurant once. Of course, you are able to drink to your heart’s content and not just Soju! Depending on your team leader you will also get to drink the good stuff – whisky, vodka, wine and other liqueurs all at the cost of the company – You beauty! Safe to say with staff dinners and a cafeteria at the office I never paid for a single meal during the weekdays.

Company Events

While sometimes they can be comparable to a North Korean propaganda rally Korean company events held for staff are so over the top that they are awesome. Think firework displays, overnight stays at top-class resorts, snowboarding trips, performances and concerts by famous singers and bands, a 48-hour bender of alcohol, food, music and laughter – Koreans do staff workshops RIGHT!

Now there will usually be a large company-wide event held once to twice a year and then smaller workshops for departments/teams or even age groups. Some of the things I was lucky enough to be involved in was a retreat to a secluded lake area, a camping/fishing trip in Namhae including canoeing, a trip to a ski resort and a performance by After School (Kpop girl band) of course each trip also involves some sort of work-related workshop but you are usually too hungover to care!

The aim of said events is to build loyalty towards the company and what better way to do that then with bribery!

Regular Staff Awards

Recognising and awarding staff achievements is something Korean companies do well and do often. Usually using the above events to recognise high performing staff and rewarding them with significant bonuses or opportunities.

Now the above is not a definitive list – there is a range of other benefits I’m sure that others have experienced but I hope the above made working in Korea sound that little bit more exciting; a lot of the said benefits are quite attractive to a younger worker like myself.

Interested in working in Korea? Find out about more opportunities here!

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Michael Kocken lived, studied and worked in Korea for 4 years and now currently works for a Korean multinational company in Australia while providing freelance Korea-focused business consultancy to Australian companies. He also runs a blog called “The Sawon” which focuses on Korean business culture and job opportunities for non-Koreans in Korea.