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Workplace comedy busts real-life stress

A promotional photo for the KBS drama "Good Manager" / Courtesy of KBS
Yoo In-seok, an office worker, says he finds some relief watching the KBS show "Good Manager."

"I'm stressed out from work these days and have few chances to laugh. Watching Good Manager and laughing out loud really busts my work stress," he said. "The drama is funnier than any other comedy programs."

Another drama fan Yang Jang-soon said the drama is like a "digestive medicine" for people, whose stomachs are uncomfortable and bloated with the nation-plaguing corruption case involving Choi Soon-sil.

The satirical comedy series "Good Manager" revolves around Kim Sung-ryong, played by Namkoong Min. Kim is an accountant with a questionable moral compass who enters TQ Group aiming for bigger kickbacks to leave "Hell Korea" for Denmark with its developed welfare system. The drama featuring ordinary office life in a witty way has started out with a 7.8 percent viewership, but that figure has doubled in five episodes. It continues to renew its own record, nearing a 20 percent nationwide viewership.

In a country where eight out of ten say they've felt depressed at work according to a 2016 survey by local job recruit agency Job Korea, the content that can kill workplace stress has emerged as a hot cultural trend.

Other dramas, including tvN's "Introverted Boss" and MBC's "Radiant Office" which depict realistic office life, are taking over prime time.

"Previously office dramas mostly dealt with romances at work. tvN's 2014 drama Misaeng served as a turning point, proving that viewers can buy realistic office workers' stories as well. Since then office dramas highlighting real office life have flourished," culture critic Kim Hyun-sik said. "A big trend for office dramas now is that they deal with social issues up close like social class, people with power and growing wealth inequality."

Witty books on office culture

"It's an Allergy-an Allergy to Working" by Yang Kyung-soo
Publishing companies have also picked up the trend, releasing books telling sarcastic stories of workplaces or how to quit jobs.

"It's an Allergy _ an Allergy to Working," a collection of one-panel cartoons by artist Yang Kyung-soo _ penname Yangchikii _ is full of satire on Korea's distinctively hierarchal office culture and the people who are on the top of that structure.

"I, who had no dreams before I started working, suddenly started having dreams _ dreams of quitting!" the illustrated book says. To a boss who says "This report is as if a dog wrote it," the employee retorts "Because you make me work like one."

Yang's illustrations, which sympathize with those working in what they see as "Hell Korea," became popular on social media and his book has gone through six editions in the two months since its release.

"I believe there will always be a Choi Soon-sil in any organization, attempting to push people around with what little, petty authority they have. In the past when we didn't know better, we would do as we were told. But in this age of the internet, individuals have gotten smarter and have the knowledge to distinguish between what is right and what is unreasonable," Yang said in a recent interview with a local daily. "I guess the notion of wanting to lead a happy life has advanced our culture into resisting these unreasonable influences and people exerting unreasonable power through authority."

Books on quitting jobs, including the illustrated "Because, I Don't Like My Company" by Kim Kyung-hee who goes by the penname Neoguri, "I'm Quitting My Job" by Emiko Inagaki, and "School for Quitting Jobs," a self-help book for people who want to leave their jobs by Jang Su-han, have been recently released as well.

Companies join trend

Companies have joined the trend, adopting similar stress-busting content in their commercials and product designs.

Korea Ginseng Corp.'s TV commercials for red ginseng product Cheong Kwan Jang Everytime have depicted office life, including one ad showing employees who work overtime on Friday night and another showing a colleague passionately clapping like a seal to a superior's not-so-funny jokes. The company, which made the commercial to cut the bias that the health product is for older generations, said after the commercial their product sales have improved among the younger generations. "Office workers' response to the commercial has been strong and it led to product sales. Compared with our other line of products, where 17 percent of sales are from people in their 20s and 30s, Everytime's sales from that age group is 28 percent," a company official said.

Illustrator Yang's funny office life illustrations have appeared in various commercials and products. Yang's illustrations are used on Koryodang's bread packages at 7-Eleven stores as well as various commercials for companies like Samsung C&T, LG and Nongshim.

In a similar context, Woongjin Foods also launched new chewing gum brands called "Sajang (Boss) Gum" and "Bujang (department head) Gum," aiming to give workers chances to chew on their bosses and blow out stress at work.

As for the popularity of this content, which is shared quickly through social media regardless of age, culture critic Kim said, "After all, people all receive stress from their superiors in any step of the workplace hierarchy. That is why workplace-related content can appeal not only to those in their 20s and 30s but also 40s and 50s.

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