One effort this summer to foster a more worker-friendly environment and a more creative culture is to allow staff at its main Suwon campus south of Seoul to wear shorts to work at weekends. Working hours are more flexible, and female staff can take maternity leave without worrying about job security.

The flagship of South Korea’s dominant conglomerate, is also trying to address shifting cultural values at home by curbing some of the excesses hardwired into corporate Korea.

Samsung last month posted an unexpectedly sharp drop in second-quarter earnings, squeezed by falling market share in smartphones, and with no obvious driver in sight to reverse the decline.
The ascension of Chairman Lee Kun-hee son and heir-apparent, the Harvard-educated Jay Y Lee, 46, could be a breath of fresh air, but effecting wholesale change in the way the sprawling company operates would be a Herculean task and could prove a mistake.

“The company is in somewhat of a Catch-22 when it comes to changing its culture,” said Jay Subhash, a former senior product manager who left Samsung in April.

“It desperately needs to adopt a culture that fosters openness, creativity and innovation. But doing so would jeopardize its greatest existing cultural asset, its militaristic hierarchy, which enables it to operate at lightning speed to outpace the competition,” he added.

Samsung has long emphasized the need for creativity while hiring more foreign talent as it operates in increasingly diverse markets. Along with relaxed rules on work hours, it stresses a ‘Work Smart’ philosophy to reduce unnecessary time spent at the office.