South Korea boasts the highest suicide rate of any industrialized nation, thanks in great part to its worker bees crumbling in the cutthroat workplace culture. Most notably, workers complain about “presenteeism,” or the pressure to arrive at work earlier and stay later than their bosses.
The paternalistic government is well-aware of the burnout epidemic sweeping cubicles. Last year, in an effort to help professional Koreans say R-E-L-A-X, Seoul implemented an hour-long siesta. This was great in theory, but introducing a midday nap won’t (and didn’t) turn strung-out Seoul into leisurely Seville. Workers who took their break, the BBC reported, compensated by tacking on another hour of work.
But government officials and employers didn’t give up. They’ve since imagined far odder ways to tackle the issue of suicide. (I’m sorry, did I say “odder”? I meant to say “batshit crazy.”)
To wit, the staff at one corporate recruitment agency are simulating their own funerals, an experience that includes writing farewell letters to family members, watching videos of people who’ve faced extreme adversity, donning symbolic robes, hugging photos of themselves and crawling inside caskets.
This “coffin therapy” is run by an outside company, the Hyowon Healing Centre, as a bonding exercise. The act of confronting death is supposed to facilitate reflection on life and help over-worked employees acknowledge what really matters.
"Our company has always encouraged employees to change their old ways of thinking, but it was hard to bring about any real difference," says its president, Park Chun-woong. "I thought going inside a coffin would be such a shocking experience it would completely reset their minds for a completely fresh start in their attitudes."
With this fake funeral trend, South Korea takes the prize for the least conventional example of treating symptoms of a disease rather than the disease itself. Let's just hope employers do address the root of workers' woes, lest they see more real funerals.