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Foreign firms turn to welfare to boost morale

Family-friendly foreign companies help employees ‘connect the dots’ in child care


Koreans have associated foreign companies with a public image of workplaces with a democratic decision-making process and advanced welfare policies.

Different foreign companies offer different degrees of financial support for children’s education. But they have similar parent-friendly welfare policies, particularly on paid maternity leave, paternity leave ― often shorter than maternity leave ― and half-day policies for parents.

Some of these advanced policies from “welfare-strong” foreign companies offer childcare-related benefits that remain unchallenged by most Korean conglomerates.

The Korean unit of U.S.-based Internet services conglomerate Google Korea, widely regarded an icon for creativity, is famous for paying up to 500,000 won ($440) per month for food for each of its pregnant employees.

Google Korea allows female employees to take their young children with them on overseas business trips. These working moms can concentrate on work as their children take classes and participate in community activities, which Google has arranged in partnership with local communities, a spokeswoman of Google Korea said.

(MCT Information Services)

(MCT Information Services)

The multinational company also offers 18 weeks of paid maternity leave and 12 weeks of paid paternity leave to all employees.

Siemens Korea, the Korean operation of the Germany-based automation and solution company, offers employees financial aid for their children’s schooling up to college regardless of how many children they have, the company’s spokesman said. Most foreign and domestic large companies providing financial aid for employees’ children pay only up to high school or college graduation.

The German company also applies shortened work hours for female employees who are pregnant or with infants or kids, effectively encouraging female workers to stay long-term.

The Korean unit of U.S.-based safety science and solution company UL Korea guarantees maternity leave for female employees. Almost one-third, or 32 percent, of the company’s employees are female.

UL Korea executive director Kim In-cheol said, “We have almost no female employees who quit working because of child care. The growing proportion of working moms in our company reflects increasing long-term service of female workers.”

The Korean firm of U.S. based pharmaceutical company Bristol-Myers Squibb Co., or BMS Korea, offers relatively flexible commuting hours. Employees can drop off their children at kindergarten or school, pushing back the time they arrive at work by a couple hours.

The pharmaceutical company has high respect for family-and-work balance, offering paid maternity within 3 months, year-long maternity leave, full coverage on caesarean-section deliveries, and long vacations during national holidays such as Chuseok and Lunar New Year.

Distributing calendars with pictures of employees’ children every year is also the BMS’s way of keeping workers high in morale, the company said.

Even with the innovative child-friendly welfare policies, foreign companies doing business in Korea still have room to keep up with the newly spreading social change to maintain their reputation of a “ladies and gentlemen” ambience, which has attracted superior talent despite equal or less salary, an expert in the human resource of foreign company said.

Young Korean employees of both foreign and domestic firms these days, however, claim that the barometer for an advanced welfare corporate system has been changing, as their family status transforms from unmarried, childless start-ups into married, child-expectant and child-raising working parents.

Such a trend comes after the economically active female population began to rise, according to social experts. Working couples nowadays find it harder to ask their retired parents to feed and watch over their growing children, they said.

“I think stationing kindergartens inside the company building is an excellent idea,” said Kim, an employee of a well-known Korean conglomerate, who asked to be anonymous.

Kim became the father of a girl 11 months ago.

“Then either my wife or I would be able to run down at any moment if something serious happens to her.”

He said that his wife, who works in a financial group, has been on maternity leave for a little more than a year to look after the baby.

“Now she needs to get back to work, but we have no idea how to take care of our daughter after that.”

Pointing out that few Korean companies ― few even among the top 100 conglomerates ― have their own or affiliated kindergartens for employees’ children, Kim stressed that foreign companies, most of which are smaller in size than Korean conglomerates, rarely provide kindergarten service, possibly because of strict safety rules and other conditions for constructing kindergartens that must be built on the lower floors.

In fact, none of the foreign companies mentioned above had kindergartens inside or near their office building.

A Google Korea official and mother of a child under schooling age said, “Installing the kindergarten is a difficult issue because first of all, there aren’t that many kids to attend preschool.”

Kim also said the old cultural atmosphere still is that men go out to work and women take care of inner quarters, eventually causing male employees to be emotionally pressured against requesting paternity leave.

“People applying for paternity leave can face disadvantages of some sort,” Kim said, “because it will put a blank spot in your career. I believe it could possibly drop you from the promotion list.”

Korean conglomerates by and large tend to encourage employees with bonuses and financial aid.

“Money is not the biggest problem here. Bonuses are good, but they can sometimes lead to moral hazard among employees,” Kim said.

“I think the company should provide more realistic support for employees with children, so that they can focus on work without having to be anxious over who’s taking care of their children.”

By Chung Joo-won (joowonc@heraldcorp.com)
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