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Posts Tagged ‘South Korea’

한국어: 대한민국의 나라문장 English: The coat of arms of S...

한국어: 대한민국의 나라문장 English: The coat of arms of South Korea Español: escudo de Corea del Sur 日本語: 大韓民国の国章 中文: 大韩民国国徽 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This blog is mainly for transitioning into HR, but today I’d like to write more about cultural transition. I’m a huge advocate for working abroad and I truly believe that without global knowledge you are limiting your professional and personal opportunities.

I’ve been back in the States for just over a month now, so between job hunting and trying to stay on top of all things HR-related, I’ve had some time to think about the transition from Asia back to the USA. While the big move has been smoother than I thought it would be, there have been a few unexpected challenges along the way.

In the beginning, the hardest part was getting over the jet lag. They say it takes one day per every hour in the time difference – and they were right. (South Korea is 14-15 hours ahead of Chicago, by the way.) Despite being awake at odd hours it felt almost too easy to get back into a few old routines. Some were nice, like driving to the mall while listening to the radio or spending a weekend with my family. Other habits needed to be restricted, like eating CHEESE for every meal and watching reality TV. I wouldn’t want to further enforce the typical “American” stereotype I’ve fought against for the past 3.5 years.

Everyone had warned me about the reverse culture shock, which I had experienced during previous visits back to the US: the momentary surprise when hearing little kids speaking English, seeing non-Asian employees at the airport, and even the terrible customer service at shops in the mall. Coming back this time around will be even worse, I thought. But the culture “shock” hasn’t been so shocking at all. Maybe I knew what to expect, so this time it’s more like small realizations that pop up now and then that remind me how every day life is very much influenced by our country and culture.

I’ll give you a couple of examples.

One of the “challenges” I found myself facing is the ridiculous amount of CHOICES I have here in America. I was so excited to go to the grocery store once I got back, but when I stepped in and looked just at the cereal aisle, I knew I was in over my head. Likewise, my choices at the movie theater have now increased at least x10. I’m not saying I don’t like having all these choices, but now I wonder how much more of my time will be wasted researching what product I’m willing to spend my money on.

Koreans have just as many wants and needs as Americans, but our economy is less dominated by particular companies and organizations, increasing competition. In Korea, the winners are clear.

Another challenge was every time I came back to the States from Korea I would get a little “shock” or sometimes a bit nervous about social situations. It took me a little getting used to, but after a month or so in Korea I had pretty much gotten all the acceptable social behavior down, e.g. bowing when greeting/saying goodbye, handing something to another person with two hands, facing away when drinking in the presence of elders, etc. So after doing all these things for months and months on end, I had to remind myself that it wasn’t necessary in America.

I remember worrying about accidentally shaking someone’s hand using both hands during a job interview in America, since it is a sign of politeness and respect to do so in Korea and I had done it for so long. While I might still hand something over using both hands, I realized practice makes perfect. And honestly, I’d rather be too polite than not polite at all. Thank you for that, Korea.

Overall, like I mentioned before, the transition has been a smooth one with very few bumps. But this is coming back to my home country, where I spent most of my life. The transition to Korea was much more challenging than anything I’ve ever done in my life. But it was also the best decision I’ve ever made. Sometimes the hardest decisions to make turn out to be the ones that are impossible to regret. I can only hope that my decision to move back to the States and pursue a career in HR will be as rewarding as the one I made 3.5 years ago.

So far, so good.

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The more I think about it, the more I realize how many similarities there are between managing a classroom and managing a workplace. I would like to clarify that I am not equating an organization’s employees to a room full of students. However, I have noticed that many of the methods used in the classroom to increase participation and confidence of the students can be compared to how HR might try to boost performance and morale in the workplace, especially when money is not, or cannot, be a factor. (Since it should not be considered as a factor for students.)

During my time working as a teacher in South Korea, I had the opportunity to learn by experience and from my colleagues what techniques work as an effective motivator for students. I found that students respond most positively to different forms of recognition, appreciation, and praise. Here are a few examples of the methods I used to enforce and how they might relate to those used in the workplace:

Certificates for “Best/Most”

I used to teach themed summer and winter programs for the students during their school vacation. At the end of each week we would have a rewards ceremony, where each student would get a certificate and small prize for the work they had done, e.g. “Most Improved”, “Most Helpful”, “Best Speech”, etc. They loved it because I was recognizing and appreciating their individual strengths, and it made them look good in front of their friends.

Just like I took the time to know my students, I think it’s important to look for and recognize each employee’s strengths and what they are bringing to the table. When performance and morale are low, you might try to consider your own awards ceremony for your company. Let them know it’s coming up, what awards will be given, and what they can do to give them a leg up. Or don’t let them know and hand out certificates randomly for fun. Perhaps every time they get a certificate they can also receive a raffle ticket and your department can hold a raffle at the end of each month. And of course, never underestimate sincere praise.

Parties/Special Activity Days

Sometimes the students need a fun day to look forward to. Even the teacher does at times. When the students were working particularly hard for a few weeks, or when a holiday was coming up, I made sure to plan a fun activity or party to give them something to look forward to. If my students didn’t like the classes, their participation and effort was less than stellar, to say the least. A special day gave them a chance to relax, have fun, and get to know the teacher and their classmates in a more comfortable environment.

Just like the students, if employees never have anything to look forward to at work, their performance may suffer as a result. Even a small thing, like recognizing and celebrating a birthday or length of service could have a positive effect on morale. A team building field trip, a fun outing, or a holiday party could also reinforce a sense of belonging and friendship between co-workers, which in turn would boost morale and performance.

Level Up System

I noticed that students performance would increase if they thought they were going to acquire something. But when they kept acquiring the same prize, such as candy, again and again, they began to get bored and performance would drop. I decided to implement a “Level Up” system where if they collected ten stickers they got a chance to level up to a new title, such as “Captain, Colonel, Vice-President”, and get a prize. Not only that, but the higher the level, the better the prize would be. And some of the higher prizes were mysteries, which of course made them want them even more. This leveling up reward system was by far the most effective I’ve used to increase student performance and participation.

With some modification, I believe a level up system could also be used in the workplace. Maybe instead of the raffle I mentioned earlier, you could keep track of employees’ accomplishments or hand out tickets for a job well done or a “caught you having fun at work” idea. If they collect a certain amount, they could obtain a new “title” or small reward, such as a gift certificate. Or even both. In any event, it would give them a reason to perform well and would act as recognition not only from those organizing the system, but their co-workers and managers as well.

Personalized Rewards

Candy. Chocolate. Snacks. Many students responded very well to those kinds of rewards. But did all? Interestingly enough, some didn’t! In that case, in order to motivate everyone it’s important to know your students and know what kind of reward they will appreciate, because if they don’t want to the reward, why should they do the work to get it?

Just like the students, it’s important to reward your employees accordingly. Similar to how many organizations offer personalized benefits, rewards should be personalized as well. If you have no idea what they want, ask them for ideas. Maybe some would like a day off to spend time with their children. Maybe some would like to leave early on a Friday. Your workplace is made up of diverse people with different backgrounds from different generations. It would be presumptuous to assume the same reward would work for all.

Student/Teacher Outing

If there’s one thing students respond very well to, it’s positive attention from the teacher. One reward in my classroom was a teacher/student outing, where we would go to a movie together, or have a lunch together. I even did this during my elementary school days and absolutely loved it. It’s a good opportunity to build a better student/teacher relationship as well as give the student a chance to feel seen, rather than just another face in the crowd.

Why not try this at work, and organize a lunch with the boss for a small group of employees? Not only will it make the employees feel recognized and appreciated, but it would give the manager the chance to get to know his employees on a more personal level. The supervisor/employee relationship is one not to be taken for granted.

These are just my observations and ideas about the similarities between boosting participation and confidence in the classroom versus increasing performance and morale in the workplace. I hope to someday have the chance to transfer my skills acquired as a teacher to my future company as an HR professional.

What is your opinion about the correlations between the classroom and the workplace? What are your methods and techniques for boosting performance and morale?

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If you haven’t already read Dr. Bob Tobin’s blog, you really should click on that link and subscribe right away because his posts are fantastic. After reading this post about two different people he would fire if they worked for him, the second man he mentions reminded me of a situation I found myself in a few years back when I was searching for a job in South Korea.

This second man Dr. Tobin wrote about was in charge of the compensation packages employees who were laid off would receive. His idea was to reduce the amount the employees were to be paid from eight months to five months, and then the man would receive one month of that money’s worth as a bonus for saving the company the other two months. While it is unknown whether that actually occurred or not, the man did receive a significant promotion thereafter.

If that did in fact happen, and the man got a promotion for his money-saving idea, it speaks volumes about that company and where its values lay, as it did about the man having the idea in the first place. But on to my story.

When I first was looking for jobs in South Korea, it turned out to be much more challenging than expected. Working with my first recruiter turned out to be a nightmare. I wasn’t prepared for the language barrier, or the way my requests and questions were simply ignored. There were times I just wanted to give up on the whole idea of moving to Asia. Just as I was reaching the end of my rope, my recruiter finally got me connected to what seemed like the perfect job. The location was good, the pay was great, and the employees I spoke with had nothing but nice things to say about the place. Just as we were about to get things finalized, the manager of the school requested that I tell the recruiter that the plans fell through and I was deciding to move on. Basically, he wanted me to lie so he could get out of paying her the finder’s fee she was owed.

After I got over the initial shock, I told him I didn’t think I could do that. He then turned the tables and tried to manipulate me in different ways. First it was, “I would rather not pay the fee and give you more money instead.” When I still seemed reluctant, his tone changed to, “If you’re not willing to do this, there are plenty of other people interested in this job.”

I felt terrible. First of all, even though I wasn’t satisfied with my recruiter, she did her job and found this position for me; she clearly deserved to be paid. How could I take that money right out from under her? Not to mention, I couldn’t even be sure that I would get that money if that’s the kind of company they were running. If they were willing to cheat one person out of their money, who’s to say they wouldn’t do it to me as well? In the end, I alerted the recruiter about the situation and ended up passing on the job. After I made that decision I realized it wasn’t a hard one to make at all. I never would have been happy at that company if I couldn’t trust them.

I didn’t gain anything out of that situation at that time. The recruiter didn’t even respond to my email. In fact, I felt very cheated out of a job that felt like the “perfect fit” even though now I know it was very far from that and I’m glad I handled it how I did.

I’m not naïve. I know businesses need to create a profit, and it’s basically why most of them exist. But in my opinion, they could be creating that profit in a more efficient and honorable way. Integrity is an important quality in both the employee and the employer in order to foster a positive and productive working environment.

What kind of person do you want to be working for/with?

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