USC Digital Folklore Archives / Posts Tagged ‘workplace culture’
Customs

Korean Customs with Employees and Employers

Main Piece: “In Korea if you work at a company and your team leader says you are going to drink tonight, you have to drink. It is is not acceptable to turn down the offer if it has been made for you. And ff you are either at a restaurant, a bar, or if you’re just sitting around with your boss and he is pouring you a glass of anything, you have to drink it. Guys are forced to drink, and if you are given a drink of any kind you have to drink the entire thing. It doesn’t matter if you don’t like it or don’t want the drink, it is part of the culture and the expectancy to finish the drink your boss gives you.”

 

Background: WP grew up in South Korea, and this is his first time in America so he has spent nearly his entire life growing up with customs such as this. WP made it clear that this is not simply in companies that are for younger people, but that this is something that occurs in almost every major job. When thinking about it, WP seemed to believe that this custom was to reinforce the idea of respect and obedience to your superiors. If you don’t follow your boss it is considered being rude, and along with that if you don’t listen to them and go along with this custom, then you will hardly ever get a chance to be promoted. The main reasoning for this, according to WP, is that if you “disobey” your boss and do not drink with them, then you would be considered someone who goes against their words. WP said that drinking is part of the professionalism in South Korea, and as such it is not a good look for your professionalism if you do not comply.And if you don’t do all the elements of the “society,” then you are seen as less than and unworthy of higher positions in the workforce.

 

Context of Performance: WP told me about this while we were at my apartment. I was asking him about his time in South Korea, and wanted to know if there were any customs that he thought were much different from Korean to American culture. Having now worked in both countries, WP could definitively say that he thought the custom of having to drink with your bosses and your colleagues, was far more Korean than American. Because as he said that he still went out to drink with his colleagues here, it was by no means mandatory and even less so with your boss.

 

Analysis:  I found this piece to be incredibly interesting for a number of reasons. For starters, in America while it is certainly not uncommon to go out after work with your colleagues, it seems that going out with your boss is for very rare occasions. At least in my experience, there was always this worry from the boss that they would be showing favoritism or it wouldn’t be professional to go out and drink with their employees. The biggest concern for the higher ups was that they feared if their employees saw them as more of a friend than a boss, they would have a harder time controlling them. It would eliminate some of the fear involved with your boss, and thus the bosses would generally try to steer clear of being overly friendly outside of work with their employees. Additionally, in this era it would be very questionable if a boss was forcing their employees to drink. Especially with the debates about the pay gap between women and the problems associated with women in the workplace having less opportunities to advance, this custom would not be very acceptable in America. This would more than likely get bosses fired because especially after the Harvey Weinstein incident in Hollywood with Weinstein using his power to force women into doing things to advance their career, there is no way this would be allowed.

Initiations
Rituals, festivals, holidays

UC Irvine Orientation Midnight Tours & Infinity Fountain

The informant is a new professional in post-secondary administration. He lives in New Zealand, but he is originally from Apple Valley, California and went to university at the University of California, Irvine, where he was involved in student affairs and studied computer science. His background is Italian and Polish, and he has 3 older siblings.

This piece describes a tradition passed along at UCI’s Orientation, where staff members take new students on unofficial midnight tours and introduce them to lesser known UCI traditions, including the Infinity Fountain.

“So at UCI we have something called Infinity Fountain, so it’s just this fountain that’s on campus and it’s the most recognizable one on campus and easiest to access cause it’s big enough for people to like, get into. And it’s called Infinity Fountain because when the water falls it looks like an infinity symbol. Um, so at our Orientation program, it’s called SPOP, and it’s a two day orientation program, so overnight, there’s usually something—so, the official program ends at like 10, but then everyone is all on the same hall for the night and so they hang out really late and there’s activities that are kind of traditions passed on. But this is one that kind of transcends that.

So after that, people usually don’t want to go to bed and so they’ll tell like ghosts stories or whatever but then there’s like a “Midnight Tour” so people just go out and the SPOP staffers will show the new students around about kind of lesser known things at UCI that you wouldn’t get on a normal campus tour. So we talk about Darth Vader Point and Torture Garden and, um, all these other types of things that are at UCI. And so one thing that a lot of people do, not everyone, but a lot of people get into Infinity Fountain, just cause getting into Infinity Fountain is something everyone at UCI should do because it’s really really fun. So what my SPOP staffer told me is that you need to start off at UCI like in Infinity Fountain, and then you also, like this is the first time you get in this is the start of your time at UCI, and then when you graduate you need to get into the fountain. And so I did that.

That’s what my staffer told me, so when I was a staffer for two years, I didn’t take all the groups on midnight tours because I was tired, but I took a couple of groups out and I took them to Infinity Fountain and told them to get in and told them, “This is the start of your time at UCI, now finish it also in the fountain as well.” So that’s something and I don’t know if it’s something all of UCI did, but that’s definitely something that someone told me and he probably told others.”

Analysis:

This is both an occupational tradition and a more general campus tradition. These midnight tours are not official parts of UCI’s Orientation, but it’s something that returning “staffers” teach to new staffers, as well as something that many staffers would have experienced at their own Orientation. “Midnight” implies a kind of taboo, as it’s at night, after the sun has gone down and the official university-endorsed programming is over. These kinds of tours must be given under the cover of darkness.

The midnight tours describe “unofficial” UCI locations. In telling new students about these places, staffers teach new students how to be “insiders” in the campus culture—the tours contain things that they would not be able to find online or in guidebooks or on a university sponsored campus tour. Locations such as Darth Vader Point and Torture Garden are the students’ names for these locations, not official names. As a result, they can only be learned from current students, which begins the transition from outsider to insider. The staffers further establish the new students as insiders when they enter Infinity Fountain. The actual process of entering the water at the start of their college experience bears an interesting resemblance to baptism.

Folk speech
Humor

TRW slang

Context: The informant is an American citizen of Indo-Pakistani descent who has worked at the same aerospace and defense technology firm for his entire adult life. The firm has, however undergone several mergers, name changes, etc. The company he work for is currently known as Northrop Grumman, but when he started working there, it was the company called TRW.

To express their dissatisfaction with the inefficient and disorganized management style of the bosses, the informant relays that the workers would refer to these inept managers as TRWs, or “Turkeys Running Wild”.

The informant was moved to a subsector of the company known as Velocium; when TRW was bought out by Northrup Grumman, it became taboo to mention the name of the previous company(s), or to wear or use any merchandise featuring their logos.

Analysis: The acronym is fairly straightforward and seems like a typical response of the frustrated employee to incompetent managers. The informant commented on the “red tape” that often made it difficult or impossible for him and his colleagues to complete assignments on time or satisfactorily, and the often conflicting or unclear instructions given by the higher-ups, resulting in repercussions for the employees. For this reason, referring to the object of their frustrations as “turkeys” gave them an outlet for their feelings, comparing their bosses to confused birds who really had no idea that they were about to become someone’s Thanksgiving dinner.

The taboo on voicing the previous company’s name was probably meant to solidify the new management’s authority among the workers. It was enforced pretty strictly, even down to the pens the employees would use could not have the logo of Velocium or TRW. Giving voice to something gives it power, if only in the metaphorical, philosophical sense, so the new company was probably trying to squash loyalty to the old and ensure no employees would defect to rival companies like Boeing.

Adulthood
Customs
Folk speech
Humor

“Ah, another day in paradise!”

This idiom reveals an element of the informant’s workplace culture. The informant divulged that this phrase is commonly said by exasperated co-workers and often accompanied by a sigh. This particular idiom is a sarcastic remark that serves as a reaction to the workplace pressure and the daily grind of listening to bosses’ demands, going to meetings, making presentations, ensuring that assignments are completed before they are due, and placating customers. This idiom is usually expressed by the employees as they walk past each other in the hallways or when one passes by another sitting at his or her cubicle. By sharing this sentiment in an open forum, those who say the idiom create a collective consciousness of the common pressures facing all who work in that environment in a showing of solidarity.

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