Office Dinners Are Voluntary, But Not Going Is Held Against You?

Unpredictable Evenings For Office Workers Complicate Childcare

Jeong Hyeong-ok 2020-07-01

Editor’s note: article author Jeong Hyeong-ok is a senior researcher at Gyeonggido Family and Women’s Research Institute, and a policy member at Korean Womenlink.


The reason (s)he stays at the office dinner


In the currently airing KBS series The Queen of Office, there was a scene in which a female contract employee asks for overtime pay for participating in an office dinner. Though dramas are somewhat exaggerated by nature, many people seem to have found this scene very satisfying.



▲ A female office worker participating in an office dinner in The Queen of Office ©KBS

In our society, “Office dinners are an extension of work,” is a familiar saying. At most companies, office gatherings are held in the evening, and in many cases, they do not end after a meal, but go on to other “rounds” at second and even third locations. Employees’ membership in and loyalty to the organization is confirmed by their staying until late at night.


A film director who appeared on the SBS talk show Healing Camp: How Happy You Must Be said that while filming, he holds a dinner for the cast and crew every day, explaining, “Not going is permitted. It’s voluntary. But if someone skips it continuously, their role [in the film] will be reduced.”


Voluntary, but if you don’t go, your role is reduced—these words clearly explain the meaning carried by office dinners in our society.


Courts’ criteria for judging whether office dinners are work


A more official answer to whether office dinners are work can be found in courts’ criteria for judging whether injuries incurred during office dinners constitute job-related injuries.


Considering precedent, if it can be proved that it was an “official company outing” necessary for the company’s human resource management, then it is possible for an injury to be recognized as a job-related injury.  The factors involved in determining an official company outing include whether the head of the company (or department) participated, what the number of participants and method of payment were, and whether office business was discussed.


In short, even office dinners can be separated into official and unofficial outings.


Because they primarily take place in the evenings, office outings in Korea involve not just the professional life of employees, but their personal lives as well. In particular, in a culture in which unofficial office dinners are held more frequently than official ones, employees’ inability to predict their evening schedule decreases their quality of life.


Legally, office dinners may sometimes count as work and sometimes not, but for workers whose positions are unstable, every office dinner is a test in which they must make an impression in order to be able to extend their contract.


Overtime work, office dinners the reasons that nighttime childcare centers have become important


Some official office outings that are ‘necessary for human resources management’ can be beneficial, but we must not forget that office dinners also often lead to compulsory drinking and karaoke. However, from this point, I would like to examine another issue - how office-dinner culture affects childcare.


The regular hours of childcare facilities in Korea are from 7:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. This appears to be based on the legal working hours of 9 a.m. to 6 p.m.


A 2011 study of three Northern European countries (Finland, Sweden, and Norway) confirmed that in each country, it is impossible to separate the childcare system from the labor system.


In Finland, most working parents leave work at 4 p.m. Accordingly, Finland’s childcare facilities usually close at 5 p.m. In Norway, as well, it is normal for parents to watch their children themselves after finishing work, so there are very few nighttime childcare facilities.


As this study shows, Northern European countries, unlike Korea, do not concern themselves with nighttime childcare facilities. The overtime work and office dinners that are common in our country are what make these facilities an important issue for us.


Creating a culture in which workers finish and go home at a set time


There are two ways to approach this problem. One is to change the working environment. That means creating a culture in which employees concentrate on finishing their work within regular working hours, and finish and return home at a set time.


The other way is to change the childcare system. This means expanding nighttime facilities so that they can look after children in place of their parents, who are working into the night or participating in office dinners.


For the sake of children, parents, and this society, which method seems preferable?


By Jeong Hyeong-ok

Published May 15, 2013

Translated by Marilyn Hook


*Original article:

기사입력 : 2020-07-01

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