70% of Koreans in Their 30s Prefer Being Alone

Article from The Korea Economic:

Director Kim and Section Chief Lee skipping hweshik [after work office gatherings], eating lunch alone, leaving the office at the end of the work day is the default…7 of 10 people in their thirties are part of the “solo tribe”

34 year old IT worker Jungmo has lived alone since freshman year of college. It’s been ten years, but she doesn’t feel lonely. This is because she knows how to enjoy living alone. She works out by going jogging at dawn before work, and in the evening, she attends classes at a foreign language academy. She also bought a selfie stick for traveling by herself.

The “solo” lifestyle of this group is also the same at work. It’s the default to get off work right at the end of the work day, and if they can, they skip all the office gatherings. They don’t have any desire to build relationships with other people. If there are a lot of gatherings, they will cut down the number to fit their schedule.

At the new recruit training, Director Kim and Section Chief Lee learned that “social life will soon be the road I realize is a method for putting me down.” This lesson has recently paled. The realization has spread that there are “necessary conditions” at work, and “sufficient conditions” to fulfill in one’s life. The number of people in the solo tribe who want to focus on themselves even at work is increasing.

The road that the “solo tribe” chooses

solo tribe

Ms. Suh works at a distribution company. When she first started at the company, her good humor and hard work made her very popular among her seniors and juniors. However she recently joined the ranks of the solo tribe. The story goes like this. At the beginning when she first entered the company, she went to every single drinking party and gathering. It ruined the slender figure she had from her school days. After she broke up with her boyfriend, she stepped on the scale, and discovered she had gained 10 kg since her entrance into the company.

Nowadays, Ms. Suh secretly avoids her colleagues. She eats doshirak box lunches. She definitely doesn’t attend hweshik. After she gets off work, she goes to the gym. Her personal relationships have deteriorated, but she feels that her priority should be rediscovering her body and confidence.

Thirty year old Mr. Yun, who works for a small business, walks 20 minutes to a place where his work colleagues won’t be to eat lunch. There are two reasons why he is avoiding his colleagues. The first is for economic reasons. In any case, when a lot of people eat together, it costs a lot of money. Even if someone pays for his lunch, he still has to treat them to coffee. It’s becoming a burden on his low monthly salary. The second reason is he’s not very attached to his company. The pay is low, and there is a lot of turnover because the work is hard. Mr. Yun doesn’t plan to stay at the company long, and doesn’t care about creating personal relationships with his colleagues. At first, it was annoying that other people looked at him weirdly for eating alone, but now he can work out too, so it’s okay.

“If it’s said to be for the group”

Forty-nine year old Director Kim is one who has received the best marks when it comes to personal relationships during his work life. Recently, he has half-reluctantly become a member of the solo tribe. Two years ago, his junior, Director Park became the Department Head. Director Kim gave his junior some advice, thinking it would help his own job. However, the Department Head took a completely different approach, and his awkward workload became bigger. The Department Head also felt uncomfortable about “seniors who were out of the office.” Director Kim decided to become a member of the solo tribe. He tried to do the amount of work he was capable of, and didn’t go to lunch or dinner gatherings. “At first, it was awkward being by myself, but now I feel thankful that I can work like this.” Now, Director Park doesn’t ask where the work gathering is taking place, and quickly makes quiet preparations to get off work.

Restaurant menus are also changing to accommodate solo tribe members like Director Kim. Currently, salad to-go in a plastic box is the most popular menu item at a cafeteria in a Gwanghwamun, Seoul office building. There are five or six options on the Korean and Western menus, but this menu item is the most popular. There are two categories of consumers: female workers who care about their figure, and members of the solo tribe who go there to get lunch. As the number of people who sit to eat a salad increases, restaurants have replaced the usual tables for four people with tables for one person similar to those in hamburger shops.

A portion of the people get their salad to go and eat it elsewhere. Section Chief Lee said “I don’t like how tired I feel having to hang out with my co-workers even during lunch. Eating lunch by myself and listening to music or going on Facebook is a good way to recharge.”

“The solo tribe labels it burdensome”

Ms. Kim, who has a two year gap with the above person, works at a financial company. She is a case of a someone who works hard, and is trying to overcome the danger of being a member of the solo tribe. She took the entrance exam for the company and passed with flying colors, but it became known that her father was the vice president, so she was labeled as someone who parachuted in with connections. Her co-workers stealthily began to avoid her. She began to feel the difficulties of the working life as the number of people with which she could chat comfortably, and get advice from decreased.

She chose her method of attack. During the summer break, she went to the duty free shop and bought a few bottles of moisturizing cream. One by one, she went around to her colleagues, saying “last week must have been hectic,” and giving them the presents. After lunch, she even brought coffee, and cleaned not only the tables, but also took care of cleaning the refreshment room and conference room. Not long after, rather than being known as “the Vice President’s daughter,” she became known as “the hard-working junior who takes good care of her seniors.

Comments from Naver:

What is wrong with being part of the solo tribe? It’s a word someone just made up, but in our country, we emphasize too much the need to sacrifice oneself for the coexistence of the group. It’s less efficient, stressful, and everything everyday is more frustrating. It’s reasonable to increase the time one takes for oneself. Don’t highlight it as if it’s a social issue.

tlfz****: [Responding to above]

It’s been a long time since I’ve seen such a good article. We also need rational individualism in our country. We spend a large part of our life at work, and if our work life doesn’t make us happy, it’s a pity for the life that we only live once. I don’t live for my company. Everyone have a good day^^


Being alone is comfortable. There’s nothing good about getting closer to others.


It was going well, and then at the end, it went wrong with the luxury moisturizing packs.


My life is more important, so I also want to be like this.


It’s not something to label as ‘solo tribe’ [with negative connotations]. We are changing for the better now. It was wrong that our country makes people invest a lot of their private time in their work. They’re robbed of the time they should be spending with their family. They do well at work, but many people’s relationships with their family is deteriorating.


It’s really not easy to be a member of the solo tribe in our country. I’m okay, but around me, there are some nosy people, who would say this and that about eating by yourself. It’s just my personal style to feel more comfortable being alone. Just think about it from your perspective, and don’t listen to those other people who may judge you. I really hate the emphasis on hweshik.


Even if it’s just lunch, I’d rather eat by myself. It’s no fun, and I’m tired of the unsympathetic conversation. Getting off work? I gave up on this a long time ago. My goal is to get out early only on Fridays. For the heads of the department who see this, please don’t deliberately leave work to do. Finish it within the standard business hours, and then just go home. This way, the junior staff can also leave.


Looking back on my work life, even at the company, I didn’t skip hweshik, adjusted myself to the moods of my superiors, and worked hard. So, the president always said he would help me advance in my career, and spoke well of me. But that was it. My monthly salary remained the same, and I didn’t have two pennies to rub together when it came to vacation or holidays. Suddenly I realized the expression “Your kind [empty] words are good enough” doesn’t have any meaning. This is the first time I’m missing a hweshik. I will change from now on. I should only do as much as I’ve received.


Wouldn’t it be desirable to get rid of the hweshik culture? When you hold a hweshik, you have to make or listen to pointless comments. Someone may get molested… The things you said to someone when you were close to them would be exposed when you are not close to them any more.

Comments from Daum:

At the very end, besides the parachuting [nepotic appointment], everyone seemed like they were about to resign from their job


What is the main point of this piece??


They wrote this article using some morning drama material, ke ke ke ke. Was it written by a reporter or a writer?


Honestly, what value do hweshiks have? I attended hweshik for three years, but it’s just the same repeating cycle of listening to pedantic talk, and the violent behavior after getting drunk. What is there to learn from this? The luckiest would be to meet a boss who’s happy at home. It’s been a while since hweshik has turned into a means to vent for those bosses who aren’t properly respected at home. Instead of attending hweshik, studying and exercising is better for my life. In the future, this kind of lifestyle will become the general trend.


First, do your work well, and also have good personal relationships. The hweshik they are talking about in this article is not the official company hweshik, but rather friendly hweshik gatherings among work acquaintances. In this case, it’s possible [not to attend], but if you don’t do your work well, and you completely skip all the hweshik, you’ll be fired.


The day will come soon when we are like the Yankees, eating sandwiches for a simple lunch in the park. But the Yankees still do their work much better than us.

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  • FYIADragoon

    I think its good to find a balance. I sympathize with the woman talking about losing her figure from too many gatherings. Socializing with your co-workers can really take a toll.

  • RiseUp

    I’ve noticed that work lunches and dinners also take a toll on my weight. It feels great whenever I have lunch on my own and can control portion size and go for a walk to improve my health. However, there is always judgment. If you do not participate in useless office events like drinking and karaoke, you are seen as someone who doesn’t want to work as a team. There is more leniency for foreigners, but the judgment is still there. Lazy office workers who know how to play the game in Korea by showing up to hweshik, drinking alcohol, and staying late at work even if they do nothing but chat and online shop oftentimes are often seen as better workers because of their “dedication” and team building efforts. It is an aspect of Korean work culture that must change for the long term well being of workers and workplace efficiency.

  • 금정산

    I don’t like how these characters are made to appear they have become ‘solo’ due to negative circumstances.

    1. Ms. Suh
    Became “solo” after putting on too much weight. The girl noticed she gained 10kg after a breakup |irrelevant detail|.

    2. Mr. Yun
    Financial problems and lack of job security.

    3. Director Kim
    Was surpassed by his junior who is now bullying him with extra workload and ostracism from the gatherings outside the office.

    4. Ms. Kim
    Is being unfairly treated and seeks acceptance from the group.

    Don’t dare become a SOLO person… There must be something wrong with you, too! You will be looked down upon by society!!!

    — Actually those who choose to become independent are strong enough to do what they feel is right for them, and aren’t pressured into conforming to others’ expectations. The people who endure unhappiness from the fear of what others might think aren’t as strong… That being said, being ‘solo’ isn’t easy in wonderful Korean culture.

    • Insomnicide

      Humans are social creatures, we’re meant to have friends, we’re meant to find partners, we’re meant to live around our families. So while they opted to become socially independent of their own choice, it’s not ridiculous to say most of them did due to the negative circumstances surrounding their environment. The social group mentality is very strong in Korea, and even among overseas Koreans. But the underlining idea is the same everywhere. Technically from an evolutionary point of view, it’s wrong and deviant for more and more people to shut themselves out of society and family.

      • Anonymous

        Humans in developed countries are well past what nature intended us to be. Many have different characteristics and preferences, and many prefer to be on their own most of the time. It’s just that before the Internet it was nigh impossible to live such a life, save a few hermits who could survive on their own.

        Note that there’s a difference between not going to your work lunch meetings and shutting out your family. You can be introverted and shut-in while still maintaining a relationship with your family (and perhaps a few good friends).

        Being of the “solo tribe”, I don’t like how you call me wrong and deviant. My family doesn’t suffer (I talk to them regularly), and I’m not hindering anyone else. What am I doing wrong?

      • 금정산

        I agree that humans are social beings and would say that we have evolved social groups out of necessity and advantage. But once groups are formed and acquainted, how much time do we need to spend together; and which social gatherings are necessary for the benefit of the team? For many Koreans, lunch and dinner outings are unwanted and a hindrance to their work performance and personal happiness. Humans are complicated, we are social but at the same time we need our personal space and independence. We need both group cohesion and our personal freedoms. We are dependent on each other and need to be independent in our own right.

        Some people are more extroverted and want other people around them. Some are introverted and NEED alone time. It never surprises me how many extroverts don’t understand this. Seeking alone time shouldn’t be considered deviance. It is a necessity for many people. It’s beneficial for the group to have focused members who feel refreshed after having their “down time”.

        This article is a form of social control – and so is the term ‘solo’. To make people appear that they have some negative circumstances for seeking alone time is ridiculous and unfair. It’s to exert social pressure and conformity upon people. Let’s evolve.

        • guest

          If the social gatherings were of a constructive nature besides gossip, drunkenness etc then by all means let’s get together. But if it’s mandatory to your career growth, encourages negative intrusiveness into people’s lives only to bring about gossip and the like, then no it’s not worth it. Especially, if it’s replacing family time, then it’s a double negative.

      • guest

        I understand where you’re coming from but I can understand the original poster as well. In my country we do not have the work gatherings but there are individuals/strangers who feel like they have a right to ask inappropriate, intrusive questions after the first meeting. Whether this is work environments, wherever, however. Then the gossip and total disregard for someones privacy is just too much especially when you’re trying to get your work done. It’s a turn off, because you feel like you’d be some what of an arse if you continue to engage with these sort of people who doesn’t see fault in their own conduct. So the I can definitely understand where these ‘solo’ folks want to be on their own.

      • 于丹尼

        As an introvert, I have to disagree that it’s somehow unnatural for people to want an hour out of 8-10 to themselves to recharge.

      • Jdjjdjdjddjd

        I’d rather be a “social creature” with my off work friends and family, than with any coworkers with whom
        I believe I should have a strictly professional relationship with. Just because these people prefer to be alone when it comes to work doesn’t mean they aren’t bein sociable in other aspects of their day.

  • wnsk

    What the hell is a “selfie stick”? A stick with a camera stuck on its end that lets you take selfies? A stick that identifies you as being a member of the “solo tribe”?

    • B

      A vibrator!

    • Mustard Stain

      I noticed them a lot this summer. Not just people alone, but mostly couples.
      You put your camera/phone on the end of an extendeble metal stick thing and are able to take photos of yourself without having to do that usual arm in front thing. Photos come off a bit more naturally.
      But there is the downside of looking like a complete wally with this camera on a stick thing.

    • Sid Driver

      They were really popular the past few years in the US and Canada for people who had GoPros or wanted to film themselves doing extreme sports. I used one for paragliding a few years ago and it was an interesting experience. Outside of that market I never really saw them catch on back home.

      Now they are being marketed to people who want to film themselves or take pictures. Mostly I see couples or groups using them so I don’t think they should be labeled as belonging to the solo tribe.

    • guest

      hahahaha.. I laughed at that one too! Ridiculous! : D

  • jonny

    people are so nosy. why don’t you let other people do what they want. some are incredibly judgmental and give unsolicited advice. not everybody is like that, but that’s why people don’t like to socialize.

    • RiseUp

      Gossip is rampant in Korean work offices. There is no sense of privacy because many Koreans view colleagues as part of a larger family/community. Co-workers will ask you questions about your vacation plans, what you did on vacation or over long weekends, about your love life, when you plan to get married, what your parents do for a living, etc. and they will judge you on your private choices. An unwillingness to disclose this information makes them think you are unfriendly.

      I often go to lunch with my co-workers, but one day I needed to run some errands. Someone in HR found me sitting alone enjoying the rest of my lunch break before returning to the office. She asked me why I wasn’t having lunch with my colleagues then started asking questions about my work experience in the office. People often become suspicious if you want to have an hour of alone time. Considering the long work hours and obligatory after work dinners, Korean workers often spend more time with their colleagues than their real friends and family. An hour of alone time at lunch is nothing compared to the other sacrifices Koreans make to be part of the work team.

      • Guest

        new flash: gossip is rampant everywhere

  • commander

    The ostensible going-alone preference of 30-something workers are blamed on stifling corporate culture where reasonable individuality is decried as selfishness and instructions from seniors which are not work-related are considered as something to be observed in a collectively misguided conception that after-work gathering is an imperative as a continuation of work life.

    But a burgeoning group of leave-me-alone workers have began to challenge the suffocating culture.

    Increased work productivity is hugely owed to leisure and quality time of workers and their sense of satisfaction with work–a luxury that the vast majority of workers can’t savor at present unless they are in the profession.

    Employers should take a lead to overhauling the military style I-order-you-follow-without questions-culture to make all workers happier.

  • MikeinGyeonggi

    It’s the older people in the office who love company lunches and hweshiks because their coworkers are the only “family” they have left. They’ve devoted their lives to work and now their spouses and kids are practically strangers to them. Thank god the younger generation is changing. Maybe kids will start to grow up with their parents around now.

  • ht7h

    But overabundance of individualism is just as harmful.

  • Xio Gen

    Aw, that’s flattering! They think we work better! That’s a real compliment coming from a Korean.

  • SalarymaninSeoul

    “I have never found a companion that was so companionable as solitude. We are for the most part more lonely when we go abroad among men than when we stay in our chambers. A man thinking or working is always alone, let him be where he will.”

    Henry David Thoreau

  • post.human

    These are my people.

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