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Young South Korean’s Are Dreading the Return of Hoesik

  • ‘Hoesik’ is a long-standing office culture that encourages company gatherings.
  • Bonding sessions are typically held outside of working hours and are unpaid.
  • One expert said that gatherings tend to “reinforce an authoritarian culture.”

Last month, South Korea removed all COVID-19 social distancing measures and its midnight curfew on restaurants. The announcement, however, was not welcomed news for some young South Koreans.

For some young office workers, the easing of COVID-19 restrictions means the return of “hoesik” – a long-standing aspect of office culture that encourages company gatherings. Bonding sessions are typically held outside of working hours, with activities ranging from a simple dinner to weekend outings.

“In the past, hoesik was considered an activity promoting group solidarity. These days, young workers regard hoesik as overtime work,” Kwang-Yeong Shin, a sociology professor at Chung-Ang University, told Insider.

Shin said the sentiment is widespread among South Korea’s MZ generation, a combination of millennials and Gen Z.

Young South Korean workers returning back to office.

ED JONES / AFP via Getty Images

Older South Koreans view these gatherings as a form of social currency. But for many in the MZ generation, the gatherings tend to “reinforce an authoritarian culture that an increasing number of younger South Koreans are choosing not to partake in anymore,” Yoon Duk-Hwan, consumer trends researcher and co-author of “2019 Korean Trends, “told the BBC in 2020.

Koreans were forced to reconsider the role of hoesik in work culture when the pandemic hit.

In July 2021, South Korean authorities placed a Level 4 restriction order on the Greater Seoul area to curb the Delta outbreak. Gatherings after 6 pm were capped at two people, bars were shut down, and at least 30% of employees were required to work from home.

For many around the globe who enjoyed working from home, the pandemic-driven workplace culture was one of the few positive by-products of COVID-19. Particularly so for South Korean workers who before the pandemic – were known to work overtime, clocking in 52 hours of work per weekand still be required to hang out after work.

Eric Seo, a 30-year-old sales manager for a start-up, told Insider that he was fortunate he did not have to experience the hoesik culture. “[The] majority of us are young and do not follow the traditional culture. When we do go out, it’s casual – you can say no. “

“The workplace culture has transformed a lot in the 21st century, revealing significant individualization among the young generation,” Shin, the sociology professor, said.

Although the younger generation workers have negative sentiments towards hoesik, Suh Yong-gu, a marketing professor at Sookmyung Women’s University in Seoul, told Reuters that “many senior workers still believe such gatherings are necessary to build bonds with colleagues.”

For younger teams at start-ups, the culture of hoesik is not widely practiced.

JUNG YEON-JE / AFP via Getty Images

“Hoesik is not just useless hours of heavy drinking but a way to enable communication and strengthen teamwork,” Chae, who is in his 40s and did not disclose his full name, told the Korea Herald in November.

Unfortunately, for some of Seo’s friends whose companies still practice hoesik, refusing their superior’s invitation to hang out after work is not an option.

“They feel pressured. They feel that if they do not go, they will be seen as not a good fit to the company’s culture,” Seo added.

However, Shin told Insider senior workers have become more accepting of the MZ generation’s reluctance to hoesik. “Old workers recognize that the younger generation is quite different from themselves.”

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