Working Overtime at Night is Neither a Value nor a Kind of Culture

Women in Their 20s Speak Out about Work

Geun Ja Ssi | 기사입력 2023/02/16 [19:47]

Working Overtime at Night is Neither a Value nor a Kind of Culture

Women in Their 20s Speak Out about Work

Geun Ja Ssi | 입력 : 2023/02/16 [19:47]

One day, sweat drips even though I don’t move. There’s still an hour left until the time at which I wanted to leave. The senior coworker sitting next to me is struggling to make promotional materials that are due tomorrow, and the team leader sitting next to her is busily making calls in preparation for the meeting tomorrow. As if they aren’t hot as well, they do not lift their bottoms from their chairs, and the question “What about dinner?” doesn’t come up, as if none of us is hungry.


Of course, I also have work to do that should be finished tomorrow. But I’ve done enough for now. It is past 6pm. I decide to stop for now and worry over it on my way to work tomorrow morning. It is because I know that even if I leave the Hangeul [word-processing] program on and place my hands on the keyboard, I won’t be able to come up with any new ideas.


▲ There were times when I couldn’t bring myself to leave the office first, and could only dream of leaving before the sun set. ©Geun Ja Ssi


I wasn’t like this from the start. There were countless times when I worked overtime at night even though there was nothing really important I had to do immediately, and when I remained in my seat like that, other tasks did come up. If the me from back then were to look at me in the present, she would praise me, saying, “Nobody has left work yet, but you dare to say ‘I will leave first’?(A common way of saying “goodbye” in Korean) What a brave person!” Hahaha.


My identity as an “activist” in a social movement organization


At this point, everyone reading this will presume that I am a sort of brave person working at a big company.(Big companies often offer the best working conditions.) But I am just an activist. To be more specific and accurate, I am an activist working at a social movement organization.


Yes, the place that endlessly works to create a world where good values such as equality, peace, self-reliance, justice, and democracy are respected. I am working at the very place where various efforts are being made to change the present society into a better society, and to move forward to a new society.


It seems like a big deal after writing it like that, but to put it simply, I am working at a place where many people who are dissatisfied with the world are gathered together to change the world.


I first began to get involved in this field because I was fascinated by the people who deliberated over such dilemmas, and because I was intrigued by things such as sharing such issues with other people, debating over them, envisioning new alternatives, and making them happen. In addition, I was also motivated by the realization that values such as equality, justice, and democracy would not be made concrete by someone else, but had to be brought about by me.


In the very place that pursued values such as equality, peace, justice, and democracy, however, the way that working overtime at night was common and that our tiny paycheck was about a quarter of what it should be were examples of aspects that were opposite to the values it was pursuing!


Not working overtime at night would seem stranger


During the first couple of years after I started working, I would work overtime at night even though I didn’t have a lot to do. It was very difficult to say, “I will be leaving first,” breaking the aura of working overtime dominant in the office. It was hard to judge whether I had left something out or I was doing something I could do tomorrow, or whether I should offer to do the work (which was hard to divide) of other activists who seemed to have a lot on their hands. Why? Because everyone except me was working overtime as if that was natural. It was even as if not working overtime would seem stranger!


It is probably hard to understand that one had to remain in the office until late at night, not out of a strong sense of duty or because there was so much work to be done, but because working overtime at night and doing additional work—that is, “pretending to be busy” was almost a kind of culture. It’s not as if working overtime at night enables new ideas to flow. And it’s not as if we are paid more to work overtime at night. Isn’t it all the more incomprehensible that there is no one above that is ordering people to work overtime at night, yet things still proceed in this way? Even when working overtime at night is neither a value that was agreed upon nor a culture.


But this was not merely an issue of working overtime at night. More things that had to be endured started to appear because I was young, a woman, someone with no one waiting for me at home, and because I was an “activist.”


Because I am young, I am the best at finding things. Because I am female, I can imbue sensitivity into reports of press conferences. Since I have no one waiting for me at home, it’s fine if we finish a little late today, isn’t it? Now, shouldn’t you be able to work this weekend here, next weekend there, and the week after that, an entire week of one-person protests? Even if you have personal engagements, since this is a critical period, let’s cut them down. After all, you’re an activist.


What in the world are these ridiculous reasons of “since you blah blah blah -” given by people who oppose authoritarianism, oppose all discrimination and suppression, and dream of an equal world? Is it that since I’ve decided to live to change the world, having control over my personal affairs is not allowed?


No more “have to do”


It’s not that I want to conclude that we should say, “I can’t make it!” or “I am not able to do it.” I am talking of the problem of saying one “has to do” something because of their role without any further reasons.


I think that there is a polite way of speaking that can change the atmosphere, with just a little more effort. For example, instead of, “I don’t know, so you, a young person, teach me the way,” one could say, “I tried to search for it but I can’t seem to find it. This time could we search together? And I’m thinking of creating a manual for next time.” Or one could say, “Right now this problem is very urgent due to such and such situations, so we’re organizing a one-person protest. Why don’t we try arranging time to protest together next week?” How long are people intending to live in a world filled with imperative orders?


Even though we regard labor as important, we as activists are living lives far from labor laws. Minimum wages and collective agreements are distant stories. It isn’t even clear who comprises the company side of things. At the same time, it’s not always unclear who the company side is. There isn’t a company to demand welfare, but there is a company that orders work.


Arbitrarily applying values and principles because the organization is going through tough times and the people working there would understand these situations best, even while thinking of fundamental principles or values as important, is against the principle of equality. Also, saying that we must endure together while regarding the work activities and personal lives of activists as separate, thus not taking responsibility for their lives, is unjust.


▲ Searching for a path where many people can be happy is a succession of dilemmas. ©Geun Ja Ssi


An activist is a person who lives in the present while dreaming of the future


This is just my opinion, but an activist is a person who lives in the present while dreaming of the future. A person who tries to find a better life for more people, looks at the present, discovers problems, and thinks about directions and things to do. This better life does not just mean material abundance nor does it mean living according to admirable values.


Each person has a will of their own, and dreams of a society where one can plan their own life under fair opportunities and realize it. That activists live in order to create that kind of life is not because they are better than others, or that they learned more. I just happened to see, listen to, and feel the place where such dilemmas took place. And I had merely acted following the thought that I wanted to be a person who helped solve them. Earlier in time.


Because I moved earlier, I may bump into hurdles because I don’t know yet what the path I have to forge is like, or how high the hurdles in front of me are, and I may take longer. I may even have to wait for others to solve them. But regarding it as natural that I give this up or endure that just because I took this road first is the same as telling me to give up what I dream of in order to make a life the majority dreams of. Similar to saying, you’ve done it already, you’re the older one so you should yield.


Whew. If I say this, someone will say, “Then, if you don’t like it, are you going to continue to work there? After saying all this? Why are you still doing it?”


Of course, I can’t expect that I will only work at this organization for the rest of my life. I am still young, and I will dream other dreams. But I can’t give up right now. No, I won’t quit.


Because I believe that wounds can be healed by people


Although many things like this occur in organizations, one cannot criticize them by saying that the many people in organizations do not even view them as problematic. Actually, there are numerous people in the organization that move us - including me - emotionally. There are people who show with their own bodies what the values they are pursuing are. There are many people that move my heart and lead me to ponder and try to realize newer values.


Inside the organization, there are people that think deeply together over small problems and suggest communal solutions in order to solve them. There are people that express their warm hearts. I change because of these people, and we all walk along together. I’ve come to love people and this place. So wounds are healed by people.


Recently, someone said to me on Kakao Talk [a messaging app], “At least you are doing what you want to do...” At that time, I just smiled, but now I feel like I can answer those words. Yes, I do have some complaints, but I am doing what I want to do. And I will continue to do it. Complaints? Problems? We can fix those together!


Today’s story, which started by talking about working overtime at night, then became grumbling, and is now being hastily finished with humane warmth. Oh, I’ll be late for my personal appointment. I should get up now. Now, to end on a cheerful note. My colleague and team leader, let’s go home, for tomorrow, for a better future! And let’s go meet the people we love!


Published: July 2, 2014

Translated by Rose

*Original article:


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