5 Tips for Surviving the Chinese Workplace

5 Tips for Surviving the Chinese Workplace
Dec 31, 2021 By eChinacities.com

For some expats, the switch to Chinese working culture is more of a shock to the system than the squat toilets. Those used to working in the Western world may have a bit of trouble adjusting to the different habits and rules. Whether you were hired for your credentials or just to bring an “international feel” to your company, take a look at these tips before taking the plunge into the paradox of the Chinese workplace.

Chinese workplace

Don’t Let Your Celebrity Status Go to Your Head

Being the only foreigner in the office certainly has its pros: instant popularity, warm welcomes, free Chinese language practice and even free lunches from time to time.

However, take care when fulfilling your role as the new pet laowai. Be mindful and respectful of the fact that you’re there to work, especially as your wages are likely to be significantly higher than those of your Chinese coworkers. With the higher wages comes an expectation that you’ll perform to a higher standard. Your immediate superiors may see you as an expensive investment and will therefore want to know they’re getting their money’s worth.

While some foreigners working in China tell stories about feeling like a prop during business meetings and dinners, don’t assume that this will be the case for you. Remember that as the odd one out, you’ll inspire extra scrutiny.

Don’t Get Too Used to the Scenery

As many will tell you in the Western world, leaving jobs too soon can be detrimental to your resume and credibility as an employee. However, in China it’s fairly common to see locals changing jobs after only a few months, especially at the beginning of their careers. Whereas you’d ideally stay in your first job for a year or two in the West, in China you may find someone of a comparable demographic already on their second or third job within that two-year time span.

According to some, the quick turnaround is the result of very low starting salaries and probation periods that allow workers to leave a post with just a couple of weeks notice within the first few months. When you’re starting out on very low wages, it’s hard not to keep an ear to the ground for something better. Whatever the reason, don’t get too comfortable with the scenery in your office. It’s likely to change more quickly than you expect.

Don’t Get Frustrated by the Pace

While every job has moments when it feels like you’re wading through quicksand, this seems especially true in China. Some startups and tech companies seem to move at the speed of light, but at other more traditional or less-nimble companies, the slow pace of change can be painful.

If you feel the need to vent your frustration about this, it’s best to do so with a friend outside of the office. Your Chinese coworkers may be baffled as to why you’re so annoyed, as many are perfectly happy as long as they’re getting paid.

Flexibility is key in these situations. Always be aware that a project may fall by the wayside at any moment. Just try not to let it affect your attitude too much.

Learn to Block Out Noise

Cultural differences around tolerance of noise can seem magnified in the Chinese workplace. While you can expect six-inch voices and a generally quiet working environment in the West, get ready for some unnecessarily loud talking, and maybe even what seems like shouting, when working in China.

Chinese people tend to be less bothered by noise than Westerners and may seem oblivious to the fact that they’re disturbing you. Most are also more than capable of working (and even sleeping) through incessant loud babbling.

If you really find yourself struggling to concentrate, it’s best not to complain and ask people to be quiet. Get some noise cancelling headphones instead and just tell your colleagues you’re more productive when listening to music.

Keep Your Cool

Every expat coming to Asia should know about the concept of “losing face” and how it is especially important in the Chinese workplace. Despite the ups and downs that come with working in China, it’s important you try your best to keep your emotions in check. Public outbursts, and sometimes even mild disagreements, can cause scandal and reflect badly on you.

Once you’ve been at a job a while you’ll have a better sense of what is and isn’t permissible, but it’s always better to err on the side of caution at the start. 

Although you may feel the need to prove yourself, avoid being overly opinionated about the workings of the company, especially in the first few months of your probation period. While it may be tough to bite your tongue, it’s better than the effect of offending coworkers or, even worse, your boss.

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Keywords: Chinese Workplace

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