Development of the service industry is often suggested as a way to revitalize for Korea’s relatively small domestic economy and stagnant job creation level. Compared to the manufacturing industry, it is obvious that the capacity of the service industry to create added value and jobs is much greater. However, the service industry is still not an ideal workplace, since almost every job that belongs in the industry is categorized as emotional labor, requiring countless hours of interactions with strangers and is accompanied by high level of psychological stress.
Since some point in the recent past, unconditional hospitality and adjustment to customers have been taken for granted in Korean society. Just ten years ago, those who went abroad were impressed by the service they received, but these days, it is quite the opposite; people say Korea has one of the best levels of service compared to elsewhere in the world. In the past, hostility was the issue, but now, the excessive hospitality has become the problem.
Under the shadows of the service industry expansion lies the pain of six million emotional workers, including sales people and call center agents. Under the guise of ‘customer satisfaction,’ the service industry workers are forced to smile in any given circumstance. These workers say that the more they smile, the sicker they get. Recently, the call center workers working at credit card companies have been taking countless calls full of swearing and abusive language due to the crisis of private information leakage. Instead of those who are actually responsible, the call center agents are often the targets of blame.
Hotel employees and flight attendants also experience abusive language and both verbal and physical sexual harassment. Employees of department stores or major supermarkets are afraid of random inspectors from the headquarters disguised as obnoxious customers. Some companies even offer this mystery shopper work as a part time job for college students.
As the public support for related legislation increases, there has been an effort to amend the Occupational Health and Safety Act to protect the rights of the emotional workers, but it still remains in the National Assembly. The reasoning behind these amendments are to acknowledge the psychological and emotional pain the workers undergo, similar to industrial accidents in the manufacturing sector, and to increase the employers’ responsibility in such cases. However, the large companies thus far have been avoiding responsibility in such cases.
The national assembly has other concerns. How will this particular legislation work in relation with others and how broadly will the legislation define emotional workers? Will it include only few specific jobs or any service industry employee? For example, as the authority of teachers declines along with the increase of students’ human rights, there are more cases of involving violation of the teachers rights in the relationship between students, parents and school authorities. Some argue that teachers should also be considered as emotional workers. Idol group singers, who have to control their emotion in public, could be considered as emotional workers within their relationship with their respective management companies. However as the definition broadens, the chance of the legislation passing lowers.
If creating legislation for the private sector is difficult, there should instead be more effort put into creating an effective system in the public sector first. The possible areas include social welfare sector officials. According to a survey by the National Human Rights Commission conducted end of last year, 80% of federal social welfare workers experience violent language, 17% of them experience physical violence, much higher than social workers working in private facilities.
Nevertheless, the most important thing is the general public’s change in mindset. There has to be a desire and social movement to replace the current paradigm of the service industry. If the first phase was simply providing the service needed, we are now living in an era where the customers’ feelings are considered very highly. A new paradigm is needed that considers not only the feelings of the customers but also the feelings and psychological wellbeing of the service industry workers’ and a mutual respect for both. All people have the right to have a workplace that is free of abuse, and the amendments that government is considering is a step in the right direction to ensure that employers have a vested interested in the psychological wellbeing of their service sector employees. Improved workplace conditions through ensured the basic tenets of human rights are met not only improve the lives of the employees but are a way to help this sector of the economy develop by attracting new talent.
Kwak, Seung-joon; 2014-01-28; [곽승준 칼럼] 서비스 3.0 시대 열자; The Hankyoreh; http://www.hani.co.kr/arti/opinion/column/621814.html