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Generational conflict in the Korean workplace


Older employees who like to give orders and look down on the abilities of young people are creating a major conflict between the two generations.

Kim, 31, a salesperson, recently shared about feeling “kkondae” in the workplace. And the person in question is his manager.

In Korean, ‘kkondae’ is a word for older people who like to give orders and look down on young employees’ abilities. The definition and usage of the word has also expanded over the years, from arrogant elders to conflict with young people on many fronts and even increased fear of being called ‘kkondae’.

The manager once told Kim not to go home after 6pm. Just like many leaders believe that employees who stay at the office late are hardworking and reflect better work performance than those who leave on time.

Kim also mentioned hoesik – the activity of eating, gathering after work. Most of the old staff think that it is taboo for young people to refuse these activities. “The kkondae often force their subordinates to drink more beer and wine in gatherings,” Kim said.

As for Ha, 29 years old, who works in an advertising agency, ‘kkondae’ is someone who only talks about what they want, not caring about others. “They kept talking off-topic, even when we were in a group chat,” Ha said.

The kkondae culture haunts many young people in korea. Artwork: 123rf

The kkondae culture haunts many young people in Korea. Illustration: 123rf

Kim and Ha are both MZ generation (a mix of Millennials and Generation Z, who were born between 1980 and 2010). This group is described as more individualistic, expressive, and outspoken. These are also the people who often fight against the ‘kkondae’ and use the term as a way of expressing their opposition to the older generation.

In addition to the workplace, conflicts between the MZ and kkondae generation also occur in the political environment. After his defeat in the election, politician Park Ji-hyun, 26, publicly called on seniors in the Democratic Party to give up leadership positions.

Park doesn’t call these people ‘kkondae’ but uses political jargon as the “586 generation” – people in their 50s, going to college in the 80s and born in the 60s.

Group 586 is called the “lucky generation” by young colleagues, when they were born in a period of high economic development, work in large corporations without fierce competition and buy houses. when young.

From the above cases, ‘kkondae’ is used as an extension of the conflict between the elderly and the younger generation.

According to experts, conflicts and generation gaps always exist in every society, but for South Korea, it is an urgent problem because of its rapidly aging population, increasing life expectancy and slowing economic growth. In fact, ‘kkondae’ is becoming more popular as more and more young people realize that the older generation is clinging to privileges that should be passed on to the next generation.

Shin Jin-wook, a sociology professor at Chung-Ang University, said that in a society like South Korea, where social changes happen in a short time, there is definitely a big gap in perception and understanding. culture between generations. This requires efforts to understand and communicate in all kinds of social systems, from the workplace, to political parties, to intergenerational families.

The generation gap is undeniable, but the conflict in recent years has largely come from the “exaggerated labeling” of certain groups, such as the MZ and the kkondae.

But it is those who are outside the MZ generation, holding managerial or leadership positions in the company, who also fear being called ‘kkondae’.

Ms. Park, 52, an office worker, always tries to be careful when talking to the members, so as not to appear condescending. Even when assigning work to subordinates, female managers also need to consider and make sure employees can do it instead of being overloaded, creating inhibitions. Even asking her young colleagues what to do on their days off made her nervous because she didn’t know if they were invading their privacy.

“Today’s office environment is very different from when I was a new employee. I had to do everything I was told. But if I keep my current mindset, I will become a real kknodae.” , said Park.

Chae, a marketing team leader in her 40s at a company in Seoul, has similar concerns. “When the word ‘kkondae’ is widely used, I worry about what my juniors will think of me when I say or do something,” he said.

Acknowledging the seniority-based hierarchy is problematic, but Chae said that the way ‘kkondae’ is portrayed in the media nowadays, gives him a sense of submissiveness, promoting young people as being of course.

“Young people sometimes use ‘kkondae’ to hide their selfish thoughts, to complain about mistakes rather than learn at work,” Chae said.

Minh Phuong (According to Korea Herald)

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