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The employees shut inside coffins (bbc.com)
186 points by amelius on July 5, 2016 | hide | past | web | favorite | 116 comments



Korean here. Korea is too competitive, and its system is so corrupt that younger people are feeling hopeless and committing suicide. For them, it's the last resort and the only way out of their misery. It's been many years since Korea has taken its place as no.1 in suicidal rate. It's currently the worst time for the younger generations with very high unemployment rate and very low wages ($5 minimum wage while average housing price in Seoul is hitting its record high around $500k). Yet, what people with power and money are trying is to blame them for not having a "strong" and "positive" mindset. I once watched a TV show where they gathered up people with failed suicide attempts. They end up saying "love yourself". Instead of fixing obvious systematic problems, they always blame the poor people and tell them things like "money doesn't buy you a happiness." and "love is a cure to every problem". It just makes me so angry.

EDIT: They also say things like "Be more appreciative that you were not born in North Korea!"


The unemployment rate for under 25 in places like Spain and Greece is 50%. Why aren't we seeing more suicide there?

I think there's something specific about suicide in the East that we just don't have in the West for whatever reason. There's a sort of social acceptance of it, but here, there's no tolerance of it. Maybe there's more resources for depressed people in the West as mental illness is beginning to shed its stigma since the start of things like psychoanalysis and the mainstreaming of therapy and anti-depressants. These things may not have properly made it to Asia. Not to mention, societies based on Confucianism put so much emphasis on shame that a reasonable way out of it is to just kill yourself. The idea of treating mental illness and challenging suicide acceptance may be culturally repellant and tough to challenge. Japan also suffers from this and is famous for its suicide forests and very high suicide rate.


Students in Korea study until midnight or later since middle school. I've done that before I moved to US. Most of my friends did it. You do that for six years until you are eligible to take the nationwide exam that is held once a year. Similar to SAT, but with many more subjects and more depth. If you are sick or feeling nervous on that day, then good luck. Take it again next year or a year after. It's very common that you end up taking the exam two or more times because you are not satisfied with your score, which means you have to study on your own after high school graduation for another year or more. If you are a boy, you have to serve in a military for roughly two years. Most of students go to army during their college years, so they usually have 6 or more years of college. When you are near graduation, start looking for jobs. Not so easy. Unlike in the US, as a new grad, you can apply for jobs once a year for big companies like Samsung. It's a yearly thing just like the college entrance exam. And, you have to take an exam and pass to even submit your resume. Oh, popular companies share the same date for their exams, so you can only apply for one. Make a choice before you apply. It's to lower the competition (or so that you cannot have a competing offer to drive up your salary).

On your resume, you have to put things like: - your picture: they grade how you look. some people do plastic surgery for this. - your age: you have to be fresh out of college. over 30? no chance. - your family info (not sure if still required): what does your father do? how much does he make? where do you live? is it a rent or owned? - list goes on.

Now if you are really lucky and you get into those big companies, then they will pay you $40k-$50k a year which is very high compared to small companies where $20-$30k is average. But, now you have no life. There is no such thing as work life balance. There's no equity compensation in Korea. You get only the salary and bonus. Cost of living and housing price is very high (avg $400-500k in Seoul). You need to slave away the next 30 years to get out of debt. Then, you must retire at age 60. (retirement age is set in stone and you basically get fired). Now do you really want to give birth to your children who will probably end up living the same life as yours? I think this somewhat explains the extremely low birth rate and very high suicidal rate.


Apart from the reporting issues mentioned in other comments, Christianity has traditionally condemned suicide as a sin, while Confucianism has offered it as a possible solution in maintaining social harmony. Even though those religions may not exercise as much direct influence as they once did, they've shaped their respective cultures for centuries.


> I think there's something specific about suicide in the East that we just don't have in the West for whatever reason.

Are you sure? I'm not so sure. I think we just don't talk about it. There is a lot of suicide in the West. Staggeringly plenty.

Look at any statistics and you'll see that in most of the West, suicide is at the very peak of causes of death. 10th leading cause of death in 2013 officially.[1] And that doesn't count all those "Swerved left into oncoming traffic for no obvious reason" cases.

And pay attention to the news. Every "found dead in their apartment" news report for a famous person is a suicide. There's a lot of those.

But the West has a very strong ethic of not reporting suicide for fear of suicide epidemics. That's why celebrity suicides are never reported as suicides and why suicides in general rarely make it into the news.[2]

In short, suicide is a very real problem in the West too.

[1] http://www.cdc.gov/violenceprevention/pdf/suicide-datasheet-...

[2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Copycat_suicide#Journalism_cod...


I literally just yesterday saw on national television news a report that suicide is the second leading cause of death for teenagers in the US.

Rather than invoking conspiracy theories, consider this much simpler theory: Western media doubles as entertainment and doesn't report much on suicide when they don't have to because it's fucking depressing.


This is a bullshit argument if I've ever seen one. Published suicide rates are accepted as non-controversial. Playing up "but but the US is worse because $conspiracy_theory" is completely asinine, although it gets up upvotes at places like HN and reddit who share a strong anti-US sentiment.

Yes Dorothy, there are places with worse suicide rates than others. Stop pretending suicide data is wrong because of your pet politics.


> Why aren't we seeing more suicide there?

East Asia has one major cultural difference with the West that's relevant in this case. Status is taken to an extreme i.e. your job, your education, your clothes, your car, your lodgings, ...

In other words, "you are your clothes, your bank account, ...". When you don't have those things in East Asia, you're not that far from a homeless person in terms of status.


That's what I thought too - the people causing the problem and benefiting from it, trying oh-so-helpfully to give the victims an attitude adjustment to better deal with it.


Well, I hope more of them can move to the USA or someplace that has better opportunities. I'm not really saying that is a fix for SK's woes, but it may be a better outcome for the individual.


Young people are already trying hard to move out. It's not that easy if you don't have money.


Where would a good source for unemployment data come from? My quick google search show Korea at 3.7% Unemployment. Is that just totally wrong?

http://www.tradingeconomics.com/south-korea/unemployment-rat...


those are extremely biased unemployment rate. It's been known that unemployment rate conducted by government is totally a bullshit with too many restrictions to be categorized as "unemployed".

There are many articles (written in Korean) that list those restrictions, for example: http://slownews.kr/19261

For young people, more realistic unemployment rate is 34.2% or 1.8million according to this article: http://www.yonhapnews.co.kr/bulletin/2016/06/13/0200000000AK...


I believe joonhocho was speaking more about youth unemployment than overall unemployment. From the same web site, that rate appears to bounce around in the double digits:

http://www.tradingeconomics.com/south-korea/youth-unemployme...


At first I thought it was some employer gone crazy.

Halfway down, I realize it's just like any other big company tactics. Some upper management suggest all employees practice positive thinking, offering a course on how do deal with stress, forced laughter, etc.

Then I wondered how common this practice was for a company to offer this to their employees in the same way a company would offer free massages or therapy.

Seems to be a common, even competitive business in Korea.

Now I'm not sure how I feel about it. It could be some big new spiritual trend, but it could also be some shady business taking advantage of the depressed.


Personally, I thinks it's way, way past any acceptable measure to improve positive thinking and engagement. It's closer to a shock tactic than to any new-age/*spiritual "put life into perspective" thing.

Really, it's just too deliberately traumatic.


It's closer to a shock tactic than to any new-age/spiritual "put life into perspective" thing.*

Actually, things like "Est" often used shock tactics, and were deliberately traumatic. (Though only slightly in the vast scheme of things.)


This seems like a classic example of treating the symptom and not the cause. The articles doesn't go into too much as to why the workers are feeling stressed. I'm guessing Korea has a similar insane work culture like Japan's?

If so, given the existentiality of this issue, the fact that the company is handling this is scary.


https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Working_time I'm pretty sure Koreans work more than what's recorded, but still.


You know what's really funny/sad? This bullshit usually comes from the very people who are in a position to make an actual difference. They are the ones who could say, "Come in at 9 and leave at 5:30. Do not work from home. Disconnect, and spend time with family." Yet, they don't, because they really do not care about this problem.


Before looking at the article I thought it was a new office layout. No more cube farms, no more open layout, now we put people into little work coffins.


Not far from truth. Not far at all for many of us.

PS: Some good ole Pink Floyd music would suit this as well.


Some psychedelics would probably make the experience far more effective as well.


So you run and you run, to catch up with the sun, but it's sinking. Shorter of breath, and one day closer to death!

Something like that? If I remember correctly, the whole Dark Side of the Moon album is one big birth to death existentialism essay...


How about the old M.A.S.H theme song?


I had the same impression. I then imagined some marketing douchebag trying to sell the C-level suits on the idea of a "Three Inch Punch of Productivity".


"This person doesn't even have limbs and they learned to swim. And you can't deal with your own stupid little problems?" Not exactly a confidence builder. It just guilts you back into living.


This person doesn't even have limbs and they learned to swim.

Let's call this person "Bob". It's my impression that since torsos are buoyant it would be basically impossible for Bob to sink. So now Bob just needs to wriggle in such a fashion as to move in some direction and occasionally get his head above water to take a breath.

Of the many challenges that a limbless person faces, swimming would have to be among the easiest. Certainly easier than e.g. donning a swimsuit.


Some of us gain perspective from comparisons like that. We don't need guilt to motivate us. Its unfair to imagine folks only react to guilt but not to a real appreciation of their situation.


Well, I know what it's for, and I can appreciate that aspect. I just know it's been used on me and had that effect.


Steinbeck (in Grapes of Wrath?) had a character recite the 5 levels of moral development. It went something like this:

1) I don't want to get in trouble

2) I want to please someone

3) I want to follow the rules

4) I want to help other people

and the highest level,

5) I have a personal moral code, and I abide by it

He explained these as levels we reach with age - entering school at age 5 or 6 we first hide from trouble. Then in first grade we want to please the nice teacher. Somewhere in middle school kids become rules-lawyers. Later in life they may learn to be philanthropic.

People can be stuck at one of these early levels for life.


Interestingly, this mirrors Kohlberg's stages of moral development, though Kohlberg was a child when Grapes of Wrath came out.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lawrence_Kohlberg%27s_stages_o...

The one missing stage is #2, self-interest, which in this framing would be "I want to please myself."


I think it's not just age, but the wealth and prosperity that can go along with it. It's easier to have a moral code and look down on those with less when your own needs and wants are secure.


My old minister used to say "We can have all the morals we can afford"


Shit, I'm stuck at 3. This is bad.


Not as bad as being stuck at #1, which can be rephrased as "don't get caught." Far too many adults are still there.


#4 and #5 are back to #1 - Doing what you feel is best while not being caught for doing it, just with a broader sense of "best".


I'm not sure how that applies, but it's interesting. Maybe I shouldn't say "guilt" as much as "shame".


My Korean mom mentions dying all the time. It's not unusual for her to manage to come out with "being born...is a license to die!" (complete with pointed finger) in the middle of a conversation. One of her favorite superlatives is "Oh, it was so [adjective] I was going to die!" She'd also often use the equivalent of, "would it have killed you? No, you should kill it!" I have no idea if this is a Korean thing, or if it's just my mom being weird. I grew up in a place where we had to drive 50 miles to be with other asians.

In my creole ex-girlfriend's family, you never mentioned death. Ever. To do so was to tempt fate.


I think that many Confucian cultures feature a general sense of shame, fatalism, and inevitable death that is coupled with a specific drive toward self-improvement and seizing the day. We're all imperfect beings who are going to die eventually, so might as well live it up when you can. At least, that's the message I get from my Chinese father.

Many American-Christian cultures, by contrast, have a general sense of optimism, redemption, eternalism, and a belief that the future will be better than the past, coupled with specific feelings of guilt, irresponsibility, and imperfection. God loves us and He will forgive our sins, as long as we accept Him into our hearts. And so this drive to master the world before it masters us is not so strong, because the world is fundamentally benevolent. At least that was the message I got from my Irish-Catholic maternal grandfather.

The juxtaposition of the two belief systems is very striking, if you're exposed to both, and can lead to many misunderstandings. I remember being so frustrated with my dad and his constant pronouncements that the world was about to end in 3 weeks, a belief that, when I mention it to American friends, is considered outright paranoia. But having grown up a bit and married a Taiwanese-American woman who once lived in rural Peru, it's interesting to compare different cultures and their fundamental beliefs. This belief that we're eternally dying doesn't seem to faze most Asians; they just accept it and go about their life.

It's also interesting to see how quickly many Asians adopt Christianity once they immigrate to the West. I've got both family members and in-laws who have gone that route; I'd imagine that the promise of eternal salvation when coming from a culture that has this constant background message of inevitable death and societal decay must be pretty attractive.


My mom's side of the family has been Catholic for some generations now. I think we even have some martyrs in our family. Mom's very staunchly Catholic, though she's more progressive than all the popes prior to this one. It's more of an identity to her than an ideology.


If I worked for such company, I would probably feel better INSIDE the coffin.


My sentiment exactly - at least inside the coffin in that exercise you're temporarily isolated from the craziness outside.


Just woke up to the most clickbait title I've ever seen in the day. On topic: This article touched me and I want to change the direction where my life is headed. I'm sure this experience is very vivid for them.


Stuff like this is why I welcome the upcoming automation/AI/robot revolution. Humans just don't handle stress well. We're a mess when things go wrong or we feel slighted or feel stuck or whatever. Its incredible how delicate we are and how office work, which was promised to be a pleasant alternative to factory/farming work, is just as bad, if not worse than the alternatives from a stress perspective.

There's something terribly unhealthy about being stuck in an office all day. The risk/reward mechanism is screwy (do an amazing job, get the same salary as doing a lackluster job), we don't move enough, don't get enough sunlight, and it brings out the worst of people as getting ahead usually means playing a mean and dishonest game of politics against your coworkers.


A lotof the cultural aspects described in this article also apply to Japan almost litterally. Its not just a Korean thing.


Japan's stint as an imperial power in Korea has left a large impact in the overall culture there


I'm not sure it's so much Japan's impact as a colonial power than the general influence of confusianism.


And, it's shameful...


The most likely outcome of this for me would be that I would quit and go backpacking. :)


Is anyone in South Korea able to comment on why there's such a high sucide rate?

According two Wikipedia, it's ranked number #2 in the world and double the rate of sucide of America:

https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_by_suicide...


One theory is Durkheim's suicide hypothesis: South Korea's industrial development has ripped apart the traditional society (already badly damaged by the country's partition and the Korean War), and social norms and society have not yet consolidated on new adaptive ways https://www.google.com/?gws_rd=ssl#q=durkheim+suicide+south+...

If so, we can hope that SK will gradually improve, especially if they can figure out how to corral the out-of-control signaling arms-race which is their educational system. (Although this also predicts bad news for China in the coming decades.)


This is interesting, to treat a high suicide rate as a symptom of some other problem, rather than the main problem in and of itself. I wish these fancy American social scientists were capable of taking a similar look at USA, but alas it's all beams and motes.


Try living in Korea for a year, and it will be obvious. Joking aside, it's just that for poor people, there are not many things that you can do really to get out of your financial situation. If you are not born in a rich family, then it's really easy to draw how your life is going to be. I think it's the hopelessness paired with extremely high working hours and very low wage that drives people to commit suicide. There are too many things to say to make it as a comment, but let me say this. Samsung, the multinational conglomerate is controlled by a single family, and the ownership has been inherited to their children for many generations. From outside of Korea, Samsung is just an electronics company. But, from the inside, it's a credit card company, a medical company, a hospital, a fashion company, food company, and the list goes on until you are out of your ideas. Samsung's revenue is roughly 20% of Korea GDP, and I am not sure if it accounts for all their branches and affiliates, and their family and relatives' businesses. Probably not. They are living above the law. https://www.engadget.com/2013/01/30/samsung-fined-over-gas-l... This is a rather extreme case, but $1000 fine to Samsung over a fatal incident. LMAO.


What the heck? Are there no antitrust laws or do they just not apply to Samsung?

One family-owned conglomerate controlling 20% of a nation's GDP and basically all industries belongs in some dystopian TV show, not real life….


Traditional way out of problems

Inability to talk through negative emotions with friends and family

In US easy availibity of guns helps.


Looked into it, appears the current surge of the sucides is related to poverty in elderly and the lack of support from family; appears the South Korea government successfully beginning to deal with the issue.

https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Suicide_in_South_Korea


OT : In the US, coffins are a big money maker for funeral homes which have been accused of running a racket. Basically many funeral homes overcharge for the coffins, engage in price fixing, and make claims (such as preserving the body) that cannot be substantiated.

https://www.globalaffairs.org/threads/funeral-homes-and-coff...

Although there are some consumer protection laws in place, e.g. in some states, funeral homes must allow you to provide your own coffin. If you do, however, they will just charge you more for other services to make up the difference.

The funeral industry is another area which needs disruption.


Basically, like with so many things, The Big Lebowski is right.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vKjBFsyYC0g


From the article:

> In a large room in a nondescript modern office block in Seoul, staff from a recruitment company are staging their own funerals. Dressed in white robes, they sit at desks and write final letters to their loved ones. Tearful sniffling becomes open weeping, barely stifled by the copious use of tissues.

> The macabre ritual is a bonding exercise designed to teach them to value life. Before they get into the casket, they are shown videos of people in adversity - a cancer sufferer making the most of her final days, someone born without all her limbs who learned to swim.

Showing how worse things could be is a very cheap and torturous way to build appreciation and attempt to increase morale.

> The participants at this session were sent by their employer, human resources firm Staffs. "Our company has always encouraged employees to change their old ways of thinking, but it was hard to bring about any real difference," says its president, Park Chun-woong.

> "I thought going inside a coffin would be such a shocking experience it would completely reset their minds for a completely fresh start in their attitudes."

And also

> He [Park Chun-woong, company president] also insists that his staff engage in another ritual every morning when they get to work - they must do stretching exercises together culminating in loud, joint outbursts of forced laughter. They bray uproariously, like laughing asses together. It is odd to see.

Here is a much better way to improve morale and to prevent the helplessness that leads to suicides:

- pay workers a livable wage

- create an environment where the workday is completely and separated from the personal day

- and one where it is possible for the worker to fully live their lives apart from their workplaces

Then none of these charades will ever be necessary again.


I think you misread this from beginning. As someone from eastern asian background, this feels not like some shady play that employer forces people into, rather I think it is close to a what is a catharsis or some sort of confession in western countries.

The belief system of Sinosphere is built on ancestor worship. Every year, family gather together and goes to ancestor's tomb, do some cleaning and present offering to the other world, memorizing the ceased while appreciating contemporary life. I think this ritual works pretty much the same way, though it might feel weird, but outcome isn't that bad.


I'd almost believe you if it wasn't for the part of the article that read "The participants at this session were sent by their employer, human resources firm Staffs.". I don't see staff members volunteering for this, let alone people signing up for this of their own free will.

I wouldn't necessarily trust the positive feedback from participants either. After all, who would willingly give truthful feedback to an employer that actually believes that this would have the kind of positive effect they seem to believe that it would?


There is a documentary from Vice that talks about the kind of fake funeral in more details.

http://www.vice.com/video/a-good-day-to-die-fake-funerals-in...

It is used and viewed as a therapy for a lot of people. I do agree that people should be given the choice to turn down it.


Might be, but it's a personal experience in that case, not one that should be forced upon employees by their employers. Keep work and spiritual life separated, if at all possible.


Agreed, should offer like program for employees to participate. But I want to say this is different than those forced laughters or exercises the article tries to put them together, the latter, especially the laughing part feels pretty creepy to me, much more than this one.


Even 'catharsis' as a Western idea isn't actually that helpful in practice. For example, taking out your anger and feeling 'cathartic' is known to make your emotional problems worse, not better, because you've given it a physical outlet that affects everyone around you.

This is totally a cult-worshipping style setup where the name of the game isn't employee health but ever increasing amounts of company loyalty. Notice how one of the participants was quoted as wanting to "bring more passion" to their work. People who need this treatment need a bigger life change than some theatrics plus some what is most likely unenthusiastic if not totally coerced admission that the bullshit helped.

Finally, don't bring "eastern asian background" into this. You should be able to argue for or against something without using your background to appeal to idiots and racists.


Bringing his eastern asian background isn't appealing to racists. There are differences between cultures and educations and they are not due to differences between races (ie an adopted kid from Korea raised in Europe will have the same culture as his family and not the culture of his origins).

Taking differences of culture into account when talking about practices in different countries make perfect sense. If there were no differences, then the "strange behaviors" we see reported would not baffle us and there wouldn't be any need for such an article. So, I think that the fact that eva1984 mentioned his background let's us know that by having a shared culture he can give us insights into what's happening that we don't necessarily have. Even if we don't agree with the practice, it's interesting to see how it's perceived there.

-

That said, I do agree with you in that overly paternalistic employers and a definition of life centered around the company (leading to overtime, obligatory parties with the company, etc..) as done in Japan and Korea is often not very good for employees mental health and is probably one of the reason for the increased rate of suicide.

Some people are realizing this (in Japan at least). A bit more than 10 years ago I taught English part time on weekends to retired people in Japan and one of the thing that stuck with me is how many of the men regretted that they hadn't taken more time to enjoy life and do things they want before retiring. I had that discussion with them as I was starting a seishain position in a Japanese company and was surprised by the amount of Sabisu Zangyo (unpaid over time) and the time spent on company dinners etc... They were warning me to be careful and not let myself eaten by the company life.


> Finally, don't bring "eastern asian background" into this. You should be able to argue for or against something without using your background to appeal to idiots and racists.

This x 10. There is being open-minded and there is letting your brains fall out. You can be culturally sensitive, but that should stop when you see victims being stamped upon by a large firm boot, slowly and quietly into the dirt.


Who gets to say if not the people themselves?

Assuming you know better than the people might be the boot stamping you don't see.

(I'm not part of the culture and have no opinion of it. I just disagree that being east asian is irrelevant to something happening involving east asian cultures and religious practices.)


It's South Korea. I don't know why are you assuming they don't get a good wage or have interesting personal lives. Some may work longer hours, but it's really not unheard of in our culture.

It's just a way to get something of your head and accept the inevitable. The culture is different, so I doubt it could ever work here, but given how many upvotes any story related to depression or suicide gets on HN, SV could probably use something too.


Korean and Japanese group actives and social organization always weirds me out. I just can't relate and it feels totally alien. I understand that most of it comes from totally different perspective.

Somebody tried to explain to me that East Asians "roleplay" their parts social hierarchies. It's the job of the boss to patronize and it's the job of the workers to play their role. Officially everything is strict and proper, but in reality there are many accepted ways to break the rules without causing undue fuss. There are lazy workers in Japan and Korea like everywhere else. It's the job of the boss to yell at them like he is really angry, but workers know that their job security and place in the organization is secure if they do the minimum (compared to the same situation in US).


That actually sounds a lot like many US offices. Many bosses don't care that their employee browses FaceBook all day at work, they just pretend to care, as long as the work gets done.


I am ending a 2-week work week/vacation week in Seoul. My first time here. The culture is definitely different. The glimpse I have gotten into work life is that it is industrious and punctual (for a white collar job), and long hours for a more manual job. But at night people seem to get along pretty well with coworkers or friends and go out. Even on a Monday night I stumbled into a Korean BBQ joint with mostly-drunken coworkers jovially making fun of their boss (who was present) and having a good time otherwise. To me, Seoul seems to have a ton of character. I've liked it so far, would like to visit again!


Going out for food and drinks with co-workers is indeed a way to relieve stress and socialize; and it is indeed a place where the hierarchy is (seemingly and within certain bounds) relaxed a little. The shadow side in South Korea (and Japan) is that these outings are to some extent implicitly mandatory. It is a part of their traditional business culture, and during the work week you hardly spend any hours at leisure at home. This pattern is often criticized for its detrimental effect on family life and raising children; or even starting a relationship (in Japan in particular).

Might not all be so bad if your wife is a bad cook though. Korean BBQ is delicious.


whenever I read an article like this, I am so glad for the German labor laws. They might make it harder for employers, but they make it possible to work AND have a decent live.


In Portugal, we have some "theoretically" restrictive labor laws, supposedly very protective towards the employee. Still, everyday you'll hear about someone being told that he/she should feel lucky to even have a job, let alone a salary (because, yes, unpaid stuff is also common).

My point being: labor laws are fundamental, but they don't trump a) on one hand, a bad economical situation; and b) on the other hand, a die-hard culture of constantly finding ways around the law.


This, especially the second point. It does not really matter how protective labour laws are when specialist market is small enough for the option of not signing mutual contract termination agreement and waiting to be laid off by employer would be too risky and detrimental to further career path. Word of mouth is very powerful ally for higher pay grade specialists.


You can substitute "Portugal" with "Italy" without affecting the validity of the sentence.


Labor scarcity is usually more important than labor laws for quality of employment.


"I am so glad for the German labor laws."

Labour laws are not so much the issue.

This is a cultural phenom.


I think one influences the other.

And you need a certain age to appreciate them (for example the child holiday thing).


For someone not from Europe; what sort of worker protections would you like to highlight (also what is the healthcare like there)?


Regarding Healthcare, this wikipedia entry sums it up pretty good: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Healthcare_in_Germany

Regarding the worker rights: Not only do you get a decent amount of holidays (around 30 in most companies, with additional free days for parents), but you can also take up to 14 months leave after childbirth (both father and mother, but combined not 14 months each and one person has to take at least 2 months to get the full amount). Your company has to offer you the job if you come back.

You can't get fired on a whim if you didn't do anything wrong. Most jobs will have to give you a 3 to 6 months notice (depending on how long you were working there).

Companies have to pay at least 8,50 Euro per hour.

The law says that you are not allowed to work more than eight hours a day, however exceptions are possible to some extend.


The getting fired part is a two sided sword though. I have to give notice up to 6 month in advance (I don't know the exact number it's a bit complicated). In theory I can dissolve my contract ("Auflösungsvertrag") on the spot but my employer has to agree to that.

It's generally a good idea to have longer periods of job security but for someone who can (in theory) get rehired quickly the laws can get in the way, too.

There's also inflexible stuff that gets in my way quite often. For example I have to rest for 11 hours before I can work again and can only work 11h/day without bureaucratic hassle. I get that it's meant to fight abuse but I'd prefer to have an easy way to waive these rights.


I don't think this would be good idea. Then there would be the danger of employers pressuring their employees to waive their rights: "If you insist on working only 11h/day, we can hire someone else."

I would totally expect this to happen for basically every minimum wage job if you could waive your rights like this.


"I get that it's meant to fight abuse but I'd prefer to have an easy way to waive these rights."

An easy way to waive those rights would mean that effectively no one would have those rights. Quite frankly, it is better to err more on the side of caution in these things. Work will still be there tomorrow.


This is basically the obvious flipside of having these sort of rules. See also, "I wish my business didn't have to follow as many worker regulations so I could make more money faster".


I my case it's more a philosophical issue. I feel fairly uncomfortable working under those regulations (to the point of contemplating quitting an otherwise very interesting job every now and then) because I have a problem with unconditionally delegating my personal decision making to some elites that "know best what's good for me" without a chance to conditionally opt out. I do understand the general concerns and that some middle ground is needed to fight abuse but personally I favor hefty fines for employers that abusing the system and good whistle blower laws/infrastructure.

I think some of this could be solved with different regulations for different kinds of jobs. More "thinky" jobs probably need a lot less regulation than say manual labor.


The 8h/day rule is an average per week if you are working 6 days a week, this is because the maximum work per week is 48h. Usually you work 5 days, so you fall in the rule that you must not be above 48h/week and a maximum of 10h/day.

If you work in shifts, some other rules apply but at the end, you cannot go over the 48h/week on average and have special "recovery" days.

But in Germany you have a lot of agreements for let say metal workers or people in the chemical industry. In some cases, the official week is only 37h or even 35h long.


It's actually even more involved than that. For example there needs to be a 24 hour down period per week and there are mandatory breaks an employee is required to take by law (refusing to take a break, even voluntarily, puts the employer in violation with the law).

I'd say that other than civil servants, people working in the "Handwerk" (a German concept that includes various industrial jobs and skilled crafts, literally "manual labour" but often implying specialised expertise) have it best as they typically work under union contracts and have fairly tight regulations.

OTOH loan workers tend to have it worst: loan workers bypass a lot of the labour laws and often get all of the drawbacks of being self-employed without the benefits of actual free agency. They're often hired to replace permanent employees, so they're sometimes met with hostility from their colleagues and they have no job security and often no way to transfer to a permanent position (both because that's often exactly what they're there to replace and because they're often under non-compete contracts that forbid them from doing that).

Agency work also tends to be pretty bad, especially for designers: you're often expected to work unpaid overtime and there is a lot of pressure keeping people from exercising their rights or asking for a raise. I've routinely seen designers work weekends and massive overtime (think 12 hours, not 10) for months on end. The worst story I heard was of a 32 hour day (working on a regular day until the next morning and then leaving "on time" the next day).

Note that not every agency is like this, but they exist and it's taken for granted that you have to "eat dirt" if you really want to work in the industry. This especially used to be a problem with internships but thanks to some changes to a few laws interns have it pretty good these days (e.g. "voluntary" interns have to be paid minimum wage, making them a lot less cost efficient than they used to be).

Also, of course, almost none of the labour protection laws apply to leadership roles (typically C-level jobs). The reasoning behind this probably being that if you run a company having to take time off can get in the way. Sadly this also means there are some strange corner cases for founders (e.g. you get almost none of the maternity protection).


I've heard in practice it's near impossible to fire badly performing employees in Germany as a result, even if you're a small company. Or firing a bad employee becomes very expensive which is even worse for small companies.

It's probably hindered a bunch of people from starting companies in the region and makes getting a job much harder because employers have to be extra careful.


> I've heard in practice it's near impossible to fire badly performing employees in Germany as a result, even if you're a small company. Or firing a bad employee becomes very expensive which is even worse for small companies.

By tradition, first 6 months of employment are on probation ("Probezeit"), with 2 weeks' notice possible on both sides. Companies can opt out of probation time, though, if they want.


"It's probably hindered a bunch of people from starting companies in the region"

I very much doubt it. If you were really wanting to start a company, you're not thinking, "I'd do this totally awesome thing! If only it wasn't so hard to fire people!"


You start a company with a few small people in germany somewhere.

You quickly realize that because of investment money and running a company, that running it in germany isn't that great and you move the company to the USA.

It happens more than you think.


I'm from the Netherlands. If an employer wants to fire you, he has to follow certain rules. If you have a temporary contract, he can just let you go after that period, so that's a popular method - just hire people temporary. However, you're only allowed to do this three times for a maximum of three years. After that, the contract is fixed without end date. You could fire someone for one month, then take him back, but that will not be allowed. If you do this as employee, then you get fired the fourth time, you can object this in court and the judge will award you with a fixed contract. If you want to do this, you have to fire someone for at least half a year, and that makes it less attractive to do.

Another option is to hire someone who is self employed. It is a popular method since the crisis. Fire an employee, then hire him back. However, if the employee only has one client, you can go to court and prove that in fact nothing has changed, and the judge can reinstate your old contract. I don't know if this happens a lot, but it has happened.

When you have a fixed contract (no end date) and work somewhere for five years, the law says the employer can fire you but has to pay you five months salary. Because of common law practice, this will normally be doubled. He has to prove that he has good reason to fire you. This is in general too little work, or malpractise, or distrust or something that disturbed the work relationship. If this can't be proved, the only option is negotiation about extra money to leave. If they can't agree on this, they can ask a judge. That will cost money as well, so most of the time that path is avoided.

Only in the case of theft or when you're drunk at work, say bad things about your boss or company, can they fire you right there and then without pay. Still they have to prove that.

When unemployed, you can get unemployment benefits, normally 70% of your last salary (average over last 6 months), but you have to search for new jobs and prove that. This will last maximum 24 months, after which you go into welfare, which is super, but little money and you have to sell your house etc.


Same in Germany, the temporary contract is something to be used to hire people when there is too much work. It makes sense to close that "Just renew it" loophole.


They are really strict on after hours working. It's now illegal to require you to check email or call in. Some companies have even gone as far as locking inboxes after hours and during holidays.


In France. There is nothing like that in UK.


"- pay workers a livable wage - create an environment where the workday is completely and separated from the personal day - and one where it is possible for the worker to fully live their lives apart from their workplaces Then none of these charades will ever be necessary again."

No, I don't think that's really it.

The suicide issues in East Asia are highly contextualized to those cultures.

They don't live the same way we do.

They live in highly structured and organized societies with very strong social norms and obligations.

Add in some hyper materialism in S. Korea since the war.

The benefit of this social order is very low crime, fairly efficient society. But the drawback is that a small percent can't take it type thing.

You know how many gun deaths there were in Japan last year? Like one! Of course it has something to do with extremely strict gun control, but it has mostly to do with their culture.

It's not so much a 'workplace' issue so much as it is a cultural issue.


Imagining how much worse things could be is an effective stoic technique often called negative visualization. Many HN readers probably practice it. Whether or not it's a good idea to use it to extrinsically motivate employees is another question..


It's a standard technique of sociopaths in management roles. See "Implement an 'It could be worse' Program" in the relevant classic (and hilarious) textbook: http://www.demotivation.com/excerpts/7-2.html


> - pay workers a livable wage

Common misconception is that companies choose what wage to pay. Unless you're a massively growing startup infused with millions or billions of VC cash, you're pretty much locked into market forces just as the consumer is locked into market prices.

> - create an environment where the workday is completely and separated from the personal day

> - and one where it is possible for the worker to fully live their lives apart from their workplaces

They already do this.


In what way are your suggestions better? Do you mean that they are actually more effective, or are you just talking about your personal preference?

Personally, I would have thought of better mental health care and limiting access to firearms and dangerous medications, so your proposal seemed very out of left field.


I wonder if it has the opposite to the intended outcome.


Me too. If you have been contemplating suicide, this could serve as a rehearsal showing you that it wouldn't be so bad. A depressed brain can react to input in ways that seem counterintuitive for the non-depressed.


How is this different from mock execution? If it's supposed to feel like dying not that much?

https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mock_execution


During a mock execution the victim actually believes they are about to die.


a whole country with the work ethic of a new business owner. while some may loathe the idea as exploitation many nations go through their phase of putting more into society than you take out. this usually ends when politicians start amassing power and use promises of largess to keep it. it does alter a society and I am curious if Asian cultures will be more resistant to it. (the other thing power amassing politicians to exaggerate differences between all)



I wonder if there is any connection to the scene in MASH.


Korea would be a great place to open up a sensory deprivation tank business.


and here I am wasting my time on an open source project


How do they get wifi?


A cubicle is like that


Mitchell Jessen and Associates have successfully pivoted into management consulting.


They can also reuse the coffins for the people they kick out, but this time nail them shut.




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