S. Korean civil servants turn off lights to get turned on

Sometimes, more cash and leave are not enough to nudge birth rates up. Here are some creative measures other countries have adopted to get more babies going.

In 2010, South Korea's Ministry of Health, Welfare and Family Affairs faced an embarrassing situation.

Although one of its tasks was to boost the country's birth rate, the procreation efforts of its own staff were proving limp. The average rate of its employees was only 1.16 children per couple, way below the 1.82 of civil servants countrywide.

So, it hit on a plan: All the lights in the ministry's building were switched off at 7pm sharp once a month. The hope was that employees would go home early and be in the mood for love.

The following year, there was a slight uptick in South Korea's total fertility rate, from 1.23 in 2010 to 1.24, although whether the ministry's blackout effort played a part is not known.

Perhaps a much bigger impact can be made here if, as the authorities like to say, a "whole-of-government approach" is taken.

Should the whole civil service ensure that no one clocks overtime once a month, 82,000 people will get to knock off work on the dot.

Observers point out that the country's interest might still be served if civil servants set aside workplace performance once a month, and embrace productivity in the bedroom instead.

The potential success can be exported to other industries. After all, the private sector looks to the civil service as a benchmark of employment practices as it is the biggest employer in Singapore.

Many businesses already support a blackout of sorts once a year during Earth Hour, when the use of lights is minimised.

And even if it all proves futile in the end, just think of all the fossil fuel Singapore would have saved.

Chong Zi Liang

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on February 14, 2016, with the headline S. Korean civil servants turn off lights to get turned on. Subscribe