Saturday, September 25, 2004

Hominid beat-down

I've gotten three reproachful emails about my handling of the woman situation now. I've quoted the relevant parts here.

Arn, emailing from hurricane-battered Florida, writes:

One last thing. Kevin, a woman is a woman is a woman. The boss, whatever her diesel-dyke exterior, is in constant competition with all other women in the organization for male attention. Get a bonsai tree and present it to her one day. Trust me on this.

Regards and rearguards,

Scott, who wrote in a few days ago, says the following:

The weirdness of your situation (for you) is that you actually hit your boss on a very deep emotional level. Unintended or not, her womanly side was crushed to not get flowers. For some reason, girls LOVE getting them. And by her being the only one to not get any further re-enforced her internalized notion of being the Cold Chief Bitch of the office.

Once (Once!) I sent my girlfriend a dozen roses for Valentine's Day - to her office. The female co-workers and her female boss got snippy about it because *they* didn't receive any flowers. The co-workers didn't go apeshit about it, but the flowers were rubbing the other girls' noses into the fact that THEIR LIFE SUCKS (or similar message).

In the end, I don't think it helps. And at this point it's much too late to give the boss some flowers. But just keep in mind that the next time you give any of the secretaries a treat (flowers, chocolate, etc) be sure to do two things - give something to the boss, and give the boss the best item of the lot. She's the boss and needs to have that re-enforced.

It sucks to have to do it, but it can help smooth things out later on.

Hope this helps.


And finally, Charlie writes:

I'd have thought that you of all people would have known to steer clear of feminine office politics, esp with Korean women involved...

Cold Chief Bitch? Diesel Dyke?

One thing I'll say in my defense: I can't and won't kiss the boss's ass. I have no plans to go out of my way to keep her happy. It might get me fired, but being a fired expat in Korea isn't exactly a tragic state of affairs. Besides, the way things are looking now, I don't think any more bad karma will be heading my way. But maybe you should ask me again in a few weeks. I might be singing a different tune by then.

Full disclosure (some of my co-workers read this blog, so I'd better cover my ass now): The Boss hasn't been visibly nasty to me or, to my knowledge, to any of my expat colleagues. She may be aware that most expats won't put up with that shit, whereas ethnic Koreans, gyopo or not, will tolerate being pushed around because they're more plugged into the Korean way of doing things.

But the reports I get from my Korean colleagues are downright depressing. The Boss asks them pointed questions about how she's perceived. She wants to know what people have discussed when they get together for dinner or drinks. She wants to hear about any complaints about the system. She wants to know whether the students are complaining about the expats. And it's not just The Boss who's acting like the Eye of Sauron: it's also The Founder over in the head office, who keeps tabs on his Korean workers and holds them unfairly responsible for things they can't control.

Our Korean teachers aren't on salary. Their pay is a function of several interrelated factors: student registration, re-registration, absenteeism, and cancellation. Students range in age from, roughly, middle school to almost-retiree. Their lives are extremely busy: along with business, school, and family commitments, many students are also taking classes at other institutes, and if they're "salarymen," they're often expected to go out on obligatory drinking sessions with their bosses.

If one of my partner teachers has five students during her shift, and one of them suddenly calls in to say she can't make it, this pegs my partner's absenteeism rate at 20% for the day. The cumulative effect of an absence here and an absence there can be devastating to my partner's monthly pay. The hell of it is that, in most cases, students are absent for reasons we at EC can't control. It's ridiculous to hold the teachers-- the Korean teachers in particular-- responsible for this. My feeling is that, if a student has registered for X months of classes with us, then any absences during that time period shouldn't count against the teacher: after all, the student's already paid for the classes: the hagwon has its money.

The poisonous dynamic is this: we expats cheer each absence because, obviously, this means less work for us. Our Korean colleagues, however, bemoan each absence because this means a potential pay cut as well as A Talk With The Boss. It also means that The Boss will openly muse about firing So-and-So, sometimes not telling So-and-So directly. The Boss knows how to work the grapevine-- yet another reason for me not to want to kiss her ass. The end result is that the "teamwork ethic" is a sham: expat and Korean teachers are differently motivated. We expats have little reason to fear an absence because we're on salary. It's only if we go below a certain minimum that our pay will be cut.

To make matters worse, the Korean teachers are asked to evaluate the performance of the partner teachers, which forces the Korean teachers to act, periodically, as an arm of management-- something the Korean teachers themselves find distasteful, because they like working with their expat partners (that's my impression, at least!).

The upshot is that I'm happy to be on vacation, and I won't be thinking about giving anyone roses anytime soon.


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