Friday, December 31, 1999


[Originally posted on Friday, September 22, 2017, at 1:31AM.]

I don't want to fight my boss, but he's putting me in a position where I'll Have to Do What I Have to Do.

This weekend, we're supposed to go on a retreat to Anseong, south of Seoul. As I've written before, I have a severe aversion to doing retreat-y things. If I'm with a small group of people whom I know and like, that's one thing. Spending a day, a night, and a morning with coworkers, though, is quite another. It's not that I hate my coworkers, to be sure: it's more that I don't like being coerced into having fun.

The retreat isn't all about fun, though: there's going to be a workshop portion during which we'll seriously discuss the future of our R&D department. We'll be divided into semi-permanent teams, and we'll learn about our upcoming projects, as the boss has many ideas for new textbooks (and the revision/updating of old textbooks). As Obama might say, let me be clear: I'm perfectly OK with the workshop portion of the retreat. My interpretation of my business contract is that, if we have job-related matters to attend to, then I must of course attend to them. There is, however, nothing in my contract stipulating that, when the boss orders you to have fun, you must have fun.

I deeply, deeply resent being forced to spend a weekend with my coworkers. As I said above, this isn't because I hate the people I work with. The issue is one of human freedom: can I or can't I decide when I'm going to sit down and relax? In Korea, where there's a group-first culture, the assumption is that it's fine to trample on an employee's weekend because, hey—job-related group activities are fun! How can they not be? Koreans, being group-first people, are emotionally tone-deaf when it comes to personal preferences. It was, frankly, disappointing to discover that my boss had decided to do the Korean thing and host this retreat. I've spent the past couple weeks feeling betrayed.

So I'll be happy to take the bus down to Anseong with my coworkers and do the workshop portion with them. I consider that part of the retreat to be de rigueur. As for the rest—well, there's supposed to be grilling, followed by chilling, i.e., we'll just sit around and... somehow get to know each other. Then we'll retire to our communal sleeping area (oh, joy), wake up and have a hearty breakfast, then take the bus back to Seoul and arrive by 1PM. My thought: fuck that. I'm planning to walk out right after the workshop is done.

Which might lead to a showdown if the boss tries to stop me. Of course, if he tries to stop me, he'll only be making the coercive nature of the retreat obvious. And what's he going to threaten me with? Firing? Hell, I'm willing to walk away from this job if the boss is truly that petty. I'll hand him my letter of resignation the following Monday, work my remaining thirty days, then move on to some place of employment that isn't quite so ridiculous.

My hope is that it doesn't come to that. The boss hasn't been amenable to reason up to now, but there's a chance he'll just let me go once he sees how determined I am to leave.

We'll see how this all turns out on Saturday. I'm going to have something very interesting to write about this weekend.


John Mac said...

Ah well. I get where you are coming from. It wouldn't be my thing either, especially the communal sleeping part. I guess it is a fine line though. Being a team player sometimes requires taking one for the team. And since it appears your boss is structuring the daily work to be team driven, being perceived as averse to teamwork won't be good for your career.

Speaking as a boss, if I had an employee up and walk out of a meeting/event I'd see it as an act of defiance. Even if I understood and accepted the motivation, I'd have to act so the other employees would know that my instructions are to be followed by everyone. I would not want people picking and choosing what they do or don't do based on personal preference.

Now, as a boss I would never force anyone to attend an event like this. I have done some team building things in the past, but always only during working hours. Kevin, have you talked to your boss about your feelings? At a minimum, let him know in advance that you do not intend to stay beyond the workshop portion of the event. At least he won't be surprised and it might provide him the ability to save face by making an announcement "Kevin will not be able to join us tonight for personal reasons..."

Anyway, that's my thinking.

Charles said...

I was under the impression that your boss knew you would be leaving early. If not, he definitely should. Again, I'm going to have to agree with John here--forcing a showdown on this doesn't seem like the best move, and it doesn't even seem necessary. Better to discuss this with him in private first and get all the issues out of the way. Worst case scenario... just tell him that something came up and you have to go early.

Also, while group activities do seem to be something of a Korean thing, I have plenty of Korean colleagues who despise department events like this. It seems to be a generational thing. Or, to put it another way, the only people who really like these events are the people at the top of the social pyramid; everyone else secretly hates them but goes anyway to maintain solidarity.

Kevin Kim said...


The boss is aware of my aversion to this sort of event because I've made no secret of it. I've also made no secret of my intention to walk out after the workshop portion. The boss seems not to care, though, so here we are.

Kevin Kim said...


The last paragraph of your comment is something I've been thinking about as well: I, too, have spoken privately with Koreans who, frankly, hate such events but attend them anyway. I still think the "attend them anyway" part is driven by the group-first nature of the culture ("maintain solidarity," as you say), but you're probably right that this is a generational issue. I completely agree that it's mainly the higher-ups who think these events are fun and/or useful. For those of us who aren't using our own skulls to give ourselves colonoscopies, such events are always, always a waste of time.

RULE: if relevant information can be transmitted in an email, there's no need for a meeting. If bosses actually held to this principle, life would be better everywhere.

King Baeksu said...

You're in Korea working for a Korean company. I personally think you're out-of-line attempting to impose your more American ways or preferences on this situation.

As a writer, I would view the entire weekend as excellent fodder. Just chill, observe and enjoy.

Kevin Kim said...


As you know from your teaching experience, we each push the boundaries and resist the system in our own ways.

John from Daejeon said...

I'm with Kevin on this. I work to live. I don't live to work. Life's too short to squander.

If this was during the work week during working hours, that'd be called work and part of the job. But anything on my personal time, is my time. That doesn't mean we can't spend free time with each other as long as it isn't work related.

Anyway, I've always been secure enough in my job performance to beg off these massive wastes of time citing previous commitments no matter the country I was working in (well, unless the food was/is utterly amazing or the female company was/is). And I'm pretty sure the boss would be stupid to let Kevin go over his own ego trip driven booze fest.

Kevin Kim said...

It's a red-letter day when John from Daejeon agrees with me on something.

More significant than any discursive rationales, though, is the visceral fact that I have a bone-deep abhorrence of such get-togethers. Ultimately, it's not about lofty issues like resisting the system or imposing American values on Koreans: it's about my sanity. Put me in that sort of party situation, and I become a trapped animal whose only goal is to get—the—fuck—out. I don't think the boss appreciates this. He's normally an excellent boss and a good man, but in this one instance, I think he's wrong to "go Korean" and do this sort of event. I still don't know why or how he ever thought this would be a good idea. But as Charles pointed out, it's usually the higher-ups who think this way.

The boss has put me in charge of confirming that everyone gets on the bus tomorrow. This is his way of making sure that I'll be on site and not escaping the event. It's a low move, but not surprising, and I don't care because I do plan to go to Anseong and sit through the workshop, at least. As for the partying: the rest of the crew can have at it.

I do wonder, though, who's going to "fall ill," all of a sudden, tomorrow morning. I doubt I'm the only one chafing at this theft of a weekend.

Charles said...

Well, good luck, at any rate. I have to admit that I am morbidly curious how a Korean-style MT will go with a bunch of foreigners.

John Mac said...

Standing by for an update...