Asia-Pacific News

In South Korea, you snooze, you don't lose!

Seoul city officials encouraged to take naps

South Korea's workers slog through some of Asia's longest workdays, which makes the Seoul metropolitan government's move to encourage afternoon 'siestas' all the more surprising.

The capital's municipal government told its 10,000 employees they will be allowed to take a nap of up to an hour between 1pm and 6pm from August this year, according to reports from South Korea's Yonhap News Agency this week.

The move is designed to improve work productivity, especially for those working long hours, and to provide a solution to staff complaints of fatigue and discomfort. Designated areas will be allocated to allow workers to catch up on their beauty sleep in the building's staff break room and empty conference rooms.

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According to the National Sleep Foundation, while napping does not necessarily make up for inadequate or poor quality nighttime sleep, a short nap of 20-30 minutes can help improve mood, alertness and performance, without leaving you groggy or interfering with nighttime sleep.

However, employees who choose to take advantage of this offer will have to make up lost time by working overtime to ensure their required eight-hour days are completed. They will also have to warn their supervisors in the morning about their afternoon-nap plans.

The Metropolitan Government is following in the footsteps of other global companies who have started to offer facilities for employees to take naps when they need to, including news organization the Huffington Post.

Companies including internet giant Google and U.S. consumer goods firm Procter & Gamble have purchased 'EnergyPods,' chairs designed by MetroNaps specifically for power naps in the office, according to reports by Today. MetroNaps claims they designed the chairs to combat workplace fatigue.

South Korea's working environment can be grueling, even for hard-working Asia. In 2010, South Koreans worked an average of 2,111 hours per person per year, the highest among the 34 members of the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). The OECD average in 2010 was 1,749 hours per week.

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Big Cheese Photo | 360 I Getty Images

Under South Korean law, employees should not work longer than 52 hours a week, including overtime, which is capped at 12 hours a week. But overtime on weekends is not counted and many firms exploit this loophole.

"There's lots of evidence that suggests that if you allow an employee to have a power nap they will be more productive," said Shaun Cochran, head of research at research house CLSA's Korea office, who added that it IS not uncommon for workers' to take lunch-time naps at their desk in South Korea already, however.

"In my experience, setting arbitrary rules like someone should be sitting at their desks at prescribed times is ineffective for professional roles," said Cochran, who noted he also manages a large group.

"Korea does have a culture that requires working long hours and if someone has a role that requires evening entertainment, which is common for sales roles, there's certainly some merit to idea of letting someone catch some winks to allow them to be more productive in the afternoon," he added.

But Cochran pointed out that in his view Korean working culture needed to be structurally changed to adapt to the workings of a modern economy.

"The culture needs to move from a focus on being visibly seen to be working to a focus on producing output," added Cochran.

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According to data on economic research website FRED, workers in Asia work much longer hours than countries in the West. The average employee in the U.S. works around 1,700 hours per year, while Singaporeans put in a whopping 2,300 hours a year. The Europeans work the least hours, by contrast, with the average employee in France working around 1,480 hours a year.

Last week, Mexican billionaire tycoon Carlos Slim called for the introduction of a three-day week, offset by longer hours and later retirement as a way to improve quality of life and productivity, according to a Guardian report. He made the comments at a business conference in Paraguay, the report said.