Society

A Frenchman's Manifesto For Flip-Flops At The Office

It should be "Casual Monday-Through Friday" all summer long -- and not just for women. It might change everything at the office, odors and energy bills included.

Thank God It's Casual Friday
Thank God It's Casual Friday
David Courbet

PARIS - In case you haven't noticed yet, summer is here. It's warm, very warm. Precautionary measures need to be taken and, first and foremost, keep a close eye on grandma and grandpa. But beyond eldercare, when it comes to heat, men and women are not equal.

The disparities, for once, means more suffering for the guys -- victims of the workplace dress code.

Whenever summer approaches, we men get excited. It will be the chance to see women unveiling their bodies a little bit more -- thank you, skirts and sleeveless tops. But maybe, women would check out men too if the latter were allowed to show their muscular legs and arms.

In the workplace, during summer (for, yes, there are the brave few still working), men have no choice: it's shirt, pants and closed shoes. And you can consider yourself lucky if you don't have to wear a jacket.

Photo: Paul Heaberlin

A man with flip-flops in the workplace is just unthinkable...

But would it be that crazy to adapt one's outfit to the weather when the thermometer is pushing 40° Celsius degrees (104° Fahrenheit)!? Let’s take a closer look:

Security, hygiene, image: the holy office trinity

Men are generally advised to avoid casual clothes if they want to climb the business ladder. Great! Let's choose our corporate leaders according to how they look. Smart thinking, folks. Still, there may be some legitimate restrictions to clothing freedom in at least three situations:

1. Safety (it's hard to imagine a garbage collector in flip-flops or a construction worker in shorts)

2. Hygiene (a male nurse taking off his uniform probably wouldn't be a good idea)

3. Company image (the most frequently cited argument)

But these last two reasons are confusing. I may be wrong, but a man wearing a suit and shirt who ends up as wet as a mop, with sweat accumulating between his legs and feet smelling like a wedge of Reblochon, is hardly serving his company.

We should also mention that not everyone can afford as many suits as there are days in a week -- and most suits can't be washed in a washing machine. There are not a whole lot of options: be rich and go to the dry-cleaner twice a week, or stay dirty and wash your pants once a month. And just for the record, giving your feet the chance to breathe may be good for your health.

Respecting clients (maybe too much)

"If you want to get new clients, you have to dress properly, it's a question of respect", explains Médiacité, a consulting and communication agency. Here, the important word is "properly" -- a very subjective concept. In 2001, a young Sagem worker who had no interaction with customers, was fired because he was wearing shorts under his white coat. This makes no sense.

Photo: Vivek Patankar

If things don't change, we'll end up witnessing other absurdities. What if children aren't allowed to wear shorts at school when the temperature rises? Oh wait, in many French schools, this ban already exists…

The point is not to think of it as a competition between suit-and-tie and flip-flops-shorts. But while women have options to deal with the heat wave in the workplace, men don't. They have nothing. Except Mark Zuckerberg, of course.

Self-censorship

The truth is that many companies don't actually have rules and regulations imposing how employees should dress (except at UBS bank, where crazy bosses decide what color your underwear should be, and also ban onions and garlic).

But where there are no specific rules, workers should have the freedom to wear what they want. Instead, as Jean-Michel Lattes, a labor law professor at Toulouse I University explains: "The Supreme Court established that liberty is a principle, as long as liberty doesn't damage the company’s economic image."

Ultimately, self-censorship is what prevails. "According to a Monster recruitment website poll, four people out of five are not asked to dress a certain way when they are hired, but more than half of them obey implicit rules to preserve their company's image." Yes, men are sheep – and that, of course, means wearing wool.

Sane body, spirit and sane wallet

A few years ago, "casual Friday" was launched. Once a week, employees were allowed to dress in a more laid-back way, notably by taking off their… tie (wild!). But why can't we have "casual weeks" all summer long? A sane body leads to a sane spirit, which makes us both more productive and more agreeable creatures.

For the companies, allowing casual clothing means turning down the air-conditioning – and saving big money. Now that is a business proposition that all bosses, regardless of gender, can agree upon.

Photo: Meaghan O'Malley

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Society

Debt Trap: Why South Korean Economics Explains Squid Game

Crunching the numbers of South Korea's personal and household debt offers a glimpse into what drives the win-or-die plot of the Netflix hit produced in the Asian country.

In the Netflix series, losers of the game face death

Yip Wing Sum

-Analysis-

SEOUL — The South Korean series Squid Game has become the most viewed series on Netflix, watched by over 111 million viewers and counting. It has also generated a wave of debate online and off about its provocative message about contemporary life.

The plot follows the story of a desperate man in debt, who receives a mysterious invitation to play a game in which the contestants gamble their lives on six childhood games, with the winner awarded a prize of 45.6 billion won ($38 million)... while the losers face death.


It's a plot that many have noted is not quite as surreal as it sounds, a reflection of the reality of Korean society today mired in personal debt.

Seoul housing prices top London and New York

In the polished streets of downtown Seoul, one sees endless cards and coupons advertising loans scattered on the ground. Since the outbreak of the pandemic, as the demand for loans in South Korea has exploded, lax lending policies have led to a rapid increase in personal debt.

According to the South Korean Central Bank's "Monetary Credit Policy Report," household debt reached 105% of GDP in the first quarter of this year, equivalent to approximately $1.5 trillion at the end of March, with a major share tied up in home mortgages.

Average home loans are equivalent to 270% of annual income.

One reason behind the debts is the soaring housing prices. In Seoul, home to nearly half of the country's population, housing prices are now among the highest in the world. The price to income ratio (PIR), which weighs the average price of a home to the average annual household income, is 12.04 in Seoul, compared to 8.4 in San Francisco, 8.2 in London and 5.4 in New York.

According to the Korea Real Estate Commission, 42.1% of all home purchases in January 2021 were by young Koreans in their 20s and 30s. For those in their 30s, the average amount borrowed is equivalent to 270% of their annual income.

Playing the stock market

At the same time, the South Korean stock market is booming. The increased demand to buy stocks has led to an increase in other loans such as credit. The ratio for Korean shareholders conducting credit financing, i.e. borrowing from securities companies to secure stock holdings, had reached 21.4 trillion won ($17.7 billion), further increasing the indebtedness of households.

A 30-year-old Seoul office worker who bought stocks through various forms of borrowing was interviewed by Reuters this year, and said he was "very foolish not to take advantage of the rebound."

In addition to his 100 million won ($84,000) overdraft account, he also took out a 100 million won loan against his house in Seoul, and a 50 million won stock pledge. All of these demands on the stock market have further exacerbated the problem of household debt.

42.1% of all home purchases in January 2021 were by young Koreans in their 20s and 30s

Simon Shin/SOPA Images/ZUMA

Game of survival

In response to the accumulating financial risks, the Bank of Korea has restricted the release of loans and has announced its first interest rate hike in three years at the end of August.

But experts believe that even if banks cut loans or raise interest rates, those who need money will look for other ways to borrow, often turning to more costly institutions and mechanisms.

This all risks leading to what one can call a "debt trap," one loan piling on top of another. That brings us back to the plot of Squid Game, "Either you live or I do." South Korean society has turned into a game of survival.

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