How Collectivism Manifests Itself in the Chinese Workplace

How Collectivism Manifests Itself in the Chinese Workplace
May 08, 2018 By Degen Hill ,

One of the most significant aspects of Chinese culture is the major emphasis on collectivism compared to the Western ideal of individualism. The saying "The whole is greater than the sum of its parts" has described the common ideal of Chinese society since the founding of Communism. Even today, the idea that the group is more important than the individual is very present within the Chinese workplace. Here's how the Chinese mentality of collectivism manifests itself in the office.

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Power structure

Similarly to the how the Chinese government functions, most Chinese companies operate with one big important person at the top and a whole bunch equally less important people just below. This makes sure that everyone is working toward a common goal and that no individual has too much power, except, of course, the CEO, who establishes the vision for the company.

As no one person or department has too much influence, instead of working solely to fulfill their responsibilities and nothing more, employees tend to pitch in where they're needed and work towards a common goal. China as a collectivistic society encourages more group work and puts more emphasis on strong relationships between individuals, hence the importance of guanxi.


Saving Face

The idea of saving face, or not embarrassing oneself or others, also plays a role in Chinese collectivism. Before suggesting a big idea, most Chinese employees will consider the implications to the wider collective.

If there's a chance that their idea could be rejected or might hurt the company, and they would ultimately "lose face", many Chinese workers would not speak up. This can be seen as submissive or merely respecting the collective goals by not rocking the boat.



If you've ever talked to an employed Chinese person, they've probably mentioned meetings, and the extent to which they hate them. Often times, meetings at Chinese companies are long, arduous and seem to drone on with little purpose. Everyone has to say something.

However, the idea behind these meetings is not necessarily to get things done, but rather that the company or department is collectively "participating". If all the members are together in one room, whether or not the meeting has any merit, they're working as a team.
Most of the time, the employees walk away thinking "What a waste of time", while the manager in charge of the meeting probably thinks, "What a productive and meaningful way to connect with my team".



Chinese people, whether they admit it or not, have a high allegiance to the workplace. One of the main principles of collectivism is that the individual will give up personal interests and share resources to facilitate the interests of the group.

Many Chinese employees will work hours and hours of overtime every week, seemingly accepting this as normal. Comparatively, if Americans weren't getting paid for overtime (many Chinese workers simply get extra time off, if that), there would be uproar.

The fact that China, along with some other Asian countries, works so much overtime gives insight into not only work ethic, but also the people's devotion to the collective good.


Team Building

One of the most tangible ways to see collectivism in the Chinese workplace is through team-building activities. Semi-regular hiking, hot pot, KTV and numerous other outings are usually mandatory for all employees, even though your boss will ask if you'd like to participate (pro-tip: they're not really asking).

Many Chinese companies also have their own dining halls where the majority of employees go and eat lunch together. If you work in a Chinese company, get ready to know your co-workers, because you're going to be around them a lot!

Although it can be difficult for foreigners at first, adopting a mental attitude sympathetic to collectivism is your first step towards building better relationships within the Chinese workplace. The needs of the group are more important than your own, so you'll need to adhere to the social norms of the workplace in order to maintain harmony.

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Hilarious article. China is collectivist because one person wields all the power in a company? Mkay. I see you have Stalin's take on collectivism.

May 14, 2018 14:41 Report Abuse