The Korea Herald


[Words to know] Corporate jargon to navigate S. Korean workplaces

20 essential words for corporate life in Korea from job titles, to company dinners, to salary

By No Kyung-min

Published : May 21, 2024 - 13:39

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(The Korea Herald) (The Korea Herald)

Some coming straight out of college, new employees endeavor to adapt to South Korea's corporate culture, a journey made smoother if they're well-versed in business jargon -- both formal and informal.

For international recruits, the challenge may be compounded by both a new language and a different work culture.

Here are some insights into Korea's corporate culture explained through common office lingo, empowering those pursuing their careers here to navigate their workplaces.

Corporate life

The weekday routine of many workers often centers around starting the daily commute to one's workplace, known as "chulgeun," and when you leave to go home, or "toegeun."

However, some workers may be required to put in extra hours at night, known as "yageun," to complete remaining company tasks. Those who frequently engage in overtime work are colloquially known by the alias "pro-yageun-er," with the English prefix "pro" signifying their many instances of working late and suffix “-er” denoting a person who carries out a certain act.

On the opposite end of the spectrum from the pro-yageun-er are those who leave the office promptly, a practice known as “kaltoegeun," when the clock strikes the designated end of office hours. In Korean, “kal” means "knife," but here it is used as a prefix to signify precision or swiftness.

However, in line with contemporary global changes in workplace culture, some do not have to commute to the company at all, as they are allowed to work from home, a practice known as “jaetaekgeunmu” or "jaetaek" for short.

Many firms typically conduct a meeting on Monday to plan out the upcoming week. However, after returning from a restful weekend, many employees struggle through Mondays, experiencing what is known as "wolyobyeong," which directly translates to "Monday disease."

To dodge the lingering fatigue of Mondays, some may choose to take an official day off, referred to as "hyuga.” One's number of hyuga or annual leave days varies depends first on the company's collective bargaining agreement if it has a union, and if not, Korea's Labor Standards Act if the company consists of five or more employees. An employee's number of annual leave days typically increases with their number of years at the company.

Traditionally, each department within Korean companies has a ranking system in place. New hires historically begin at the entry level, followed by progressive ranks such as “daeri” and “gwajang,” leading up to the highest position in a team known as "team jang" or in a department known as "bujang." In the third person, people may refer formally to their boss in general as “sangsa."

Korean companies, or individual departments within them, also occasionally host "hoesik" events, which are after-work company gatherings for employees to get to know each other and get closer over food and drinks.

Before the COVID-19 pandemic, hoesik used to occur mainly on Fridays, so that attendees theoretically could unwind over dinner followed by drinking without the burden of work the next day. But today's workplaces, out of consideration of employees' personal time, schedule company dinners during the week and tend not impose mandatory attendance or require attendees to drink.

(Getty Images) (Getty Images)

Precious 'wolgeup'

One of the most critical factors prospective employees consider is their "yeonbong" (annual salary), comprised of their "wolgeup" (monthly paycheck).

In a lighthearted and humorous twist, individuals who don't put in much effort for the company but still receive their monthly paycheck regularly refer to themselves as “wolgeup loopang,” based on the Korean variant pronunciation of the last name of Arsene Lupin, a fictional French thief.

In addition to regular wages, some companies reward employees with bonuses or gifts, typically during major holidays such as Korean Thanksgiving in September and Korean New Year in February. Small cash bonuses used to be referred to as "tteokgap" or tteok (rice cake) money. The term comes from the cost of buying rice cakes, which reflects the custom of consuming and sharing rice cakes with family members during traditional holidays.

Employees who have worked for the firm for at least one year, usually with a minimum of 15 hours per week, are entitled to receive severance pay if they are let go or retire from the company, known as “toejikgeum.”

Contrary to workers prioritizing their salary and career over personal time, some prefer to maintain a healthy work-life balance. Though the term originates in English, Koreans commonly use a shortened version, “worabael,” to refer to it.

Though not exclusively limited to the corporate world, an individual who juggles multiple jobs is commonly referred to as a "n-job-ler.” They could be a freelancer working on various projects simultaneously or simply a worker who takes on side jobs alongside their primary corporate job.