Getting pass-out-drunk on heady combinations of beer and soju is almost expected by Korean companies whenever work get-togethers are organized, but many corporations are bucking the trend by refocusing such events on healthier pursuits.
One company that handles publicity for food and beverage and apparels makers in Seoul found that its booze-drinking sessions were leaving its employees drained and unproductive. This prompted it to embark on a high-octane evening trip that let them vent their stress in other ways, such as by screaming their way through hair-rising roller-coaster rides.
"We often work overtime in the evening and the workers get really stressed out," said the head of the company. "But when we are forced to attend company dinners, staff often complain that they get even more tired, so we decided to replace such gatherings with trips to an amusement park."
Recently, more advertising agencies, PR companies and foreign businesses in the capital are following suit as they realize that the long-held office tradition of mixing boilermakers and group binge drinking with crooning sessions at karaoke bars are not boosting morale.
At one advertising agency, employees ditched company dinners and now head to beauty parlors or skin clinics together after work. One copywriter at the company said she received some acupuncture treatment at an Oriental medicine clinic to raise the profile of her nose.
"The company president bought us the treatments," she said. "People with skin problems were able to get skin treatments, while people like me with flatter noses were able to try something to make them a bit higher."
"We often end up neglecting our looks due to our busy work schedules, but I was very touched when my company took steps to address such needs," she added.
One foreign company assesses the performance records of each employee every quarter and sends five of them on overseas trips, letting them spend one restful week in exotic locations such as Bali, Guam, Malaysia or Hawaii. Instead of spending so much money on expensive dinners, this frees up cash for it to nurture welfare programs for staff.
"Married employees with children tend to get the most excited about our new welfare program," said an employee in the company's marketing department.
"Company dinners that run on late into the night eat into family time, but these overseas trips allow me to get some good rest with my family, so I can return to work more energized and focused," another employee said.
Meanwhile, increasing numbers of companies are ditching end-of-the-year parties and using the money to invite professional make-up artists or stylists to help their employees with their personal grooming. One executive at a PR company said, "I heard many staff tell me this made them think twice about quitting."