Former Cheil Australia boss hits out at ‘oppressive’ work culture in Korea

The former boss of the Australian office of Korean agency network Cheil has criticised the “oppressive” work culture in Korea, commenting beneath a story that mentions a Cheil initiative to prevent suicide in Seoul.

In Korea, there are “dormitories in workplaces so once you are too tired, you don’t go home you simply sleep at the office and start again when you wake up,” Tony Simms, the former boss of Cheil Australia commented yesterday on a story about a presentation the agency is to give at the Mumbrella 360 conference in Sydney next month.

“Oppressive management training where senior managers are loaded up with overnight projects then filmed in lectures the next morning where they are shamed if they are fall asleep,” he continued. Simms did not comment about Cheil directly, talking generally about working life in Korea.

“Junior staff are unable to go home until their senior does (regardless of finishing the tasks for the day) or they are seen as uncommitted to their job.”

“The ‘Bridge for life’ campaign is like applying a band aid to a gaping wound,” Simms wrote.

Cheil declined to comment.

However, Sam Kim, GM of Draftfcb’s Korean operation, responded to Simms’ observations, saying: “The comments are somewhat true, but there is background to this culture. Agency work culture in Korea is relatively liberated compared to other industry corporate cultures.”

“It is still affected by the traditional Korean working culture that has been passed down for generations and based on Confucianism. Even though Korea has developed and diversified culturally, Confucianism still remains in many Koreans’ minds subconsciously, which in-turn affects numerous aspects of the professional environment.”

“Agency working culture in Seoul is metaphorically considered as a “convenience store” because we should be available 24/7 for clients’ requests. However, believe it or not, many Koreans still believe that Koreans’ indomitable working spirit is a result of the “Miracle on the Han River”. The miracle of the Han River is considered as a virtue of diligence,” he said.

Tony Simms was chief director at Cheil Australia for more than three and a half years from 2006 to 2009.

Tony SimmsHe has recently been without steady work, and has been waging a long campaign against ageism in Australia’s ad industry. In a one-man protest in an area of Sydney well known for marketing stunts, he wore a sandwich board that read: ‘Work wanted’. The stunt made the breakfast news.

Late last year, he wrote his LinkedIn profile in the form of an obituary, writing in his career summary (which has since been updated) that he “was diagnosed with a terminal condition called E; more commonly known as Experience”.

Simms’ comments come the week after a 24 year-old executive in China died of a heart attack, believed to be stress related.


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