SEOUL, Jan. 19 (Korea Bizwire) — A long-held rite of passage for new employees at big firms has in recent weeks come under fire after reports surfaced detailing allegations that newly hired female employees at Kookmin Bank (KB), who were participants in a company mandated training program, were offered contraceptives to avoid suffering from discomfort on the same day as a scheduled 100km march.
In the ensuing fallout the misstep has caused, regional banks also operating similar bootcamps for new hires with strenuous physical “activities” have pledged to reconsider the programs.
KB on January 8 confirmed that its new female employees had been informed that birth control pills were available to them based on need. South Korea’s largest bank explained that a training program administrator gathered the female employees separately and told them, “Since having one’s period on the day of the march is not ideal, birth control pills are available.” The administrator then instructed the group to “ask for some if needed”.
KB added that the incident occurred last December during the company’s “bootcamp”, a company retreat dedicated to preparing new employees for life at the bank. The bank stressed that participation in the 100km march was optional, and that those who were physically unable to complete the trek could sit it out.
As problematic as the issue of a corporate representative brazenly encouraging female employees to control their menstruation may seem, public disgust has descended most heavily upon the practices entailing the company retreats that the female employees were forced to partake in.
Typically lasting weeks, retreats serve as training protocols for new company recruits to learn the ropes of company life and culture before stepping into the work environment.
Starting in the early-to-mid 2000s, these retreats began to become more diversified as corporations, with the intention of toughening up their new hires, began to introduce gradually more physically challenging activities, such as one-day marine training, 100km marches, and others, blurring the lines between company retreat and literal bootcamp.
With more and more corporations adopting company retreats as an integral step in their approach to molding applicants into company men and women, entry-level employees have suffered as these retreats have devolved into a pissing contest between their employers along the lines of: “They marched 40km? We’ll march 80km!”
Besides forced marches, allegations of verbal abuse, torturous exercise, excessive punishment for breaking the rules and significant injuries caused by the rigorous demands of the company retreat have been raised in the past.
The Hankyoreh reported on January 2 that administrators at security firm S-1′s company retreat for new employees verbally abused individuals and punished them for the slightest infraction with heavy-handed penalties that in one employee’s case resulted in an ailment requiring surgery.
One individual interviewed by the paper likened the experience to an army boot camp, and the administrators to drill sergeants. “For a second I was wondering whether I was in the military or not,” said the individual, who declined to provide his name.
According to The Hankyoreh, this individual along with 53 others took part in a company retreat that lasted from August 21 through September 29. Despite the constant stream of invective heaped upon the new company hires, the assurance of employment in a frigid job market gave the trainees a strong reason to hold on.
However, for some, mental fortitude soon gave way to physical limitations. After being put through a grueling four-hour round of military-style training in the gym after 20 trainees were discovered to have violated the retreat’s no-smoking policy, one individual eventually had to call it quits after sustaining a right knee injury that necessitated surgery. Though this particular individual was not one of the guilty party, the entire group was ordered to participate in the exercises.
Other reports of training exercise gone too far have surfaced, such as an exposé by Joongang Daily regarding new employees at Hyundai Motor Group and Korea Investment & Securities being given the “voluntary” option of undertaking hikes up Jirisan and Hallasan, two of the tallest mountains in South Korea, as well as a recounting of employees collapsing from breathing complications and exhaustion at steelmaker Posco.
Wary of being found guilty in the court of public opinion, regional banks are per EBN, looking into possibly shuttering long marches from their company retreats. A spokesperson for DGB Daegu Bank said that it had for two years running incorporated a 100km march into its company retreats. The spokesperson stated that it had fielded no complaints over the march, but that the bank would think about eliminating it in light of recent developments.
Professor Kwon Soon-won told the Joongang Daily, “Military style employee training would be unthinkable at an American or European company and is an element that has disappeared from Japanese firms.” Kwon pointed out that such training protocols, while a necessary and successful model during postwar South Korea, were no longer a viable path forward when mapping the country’s future.
“Companies must concern themselves with figuring out how to nurture employee creativity,” Kwon said.
Lina Jang (firstname.lastname@example.org)