Differences in workplace culture are experienced by expats in China on a daily basis. It can be something as trivial as taking a nap during the work day or something as serious as being forced into unpaid overtime. There are many ways in which Chinese company culture is unique. Here, I examine seven of them.
In the West, most people work from 9am to 5pm, Monday to Friday. They arrive and leave pretty much on the dot, and overtime is rare, if not completely unheard of. If people are asked to work overtime, they are compensated properly or can refuse to do it altogether.
In China, the mentality is quite different. Most people work regular overtime, with hours that start any time between 7am and 10am and finish any time from 6pm to 10pm (or even later). Working on Saturday is quite common in some industries, while working on Sunday is not out of the question either. China is know for its “996” system, where employees are expected to work from 9am to 9pm, six days a week.
Overtime is part and parcel of working in China. Employees asked to do so may or may not be compensated, but there is an expectation either way that the job will get done in the shortest time possible, regardless of workers' rights. While most local staff accept that overtime is part of the job, especially in the tech or startup industries, some foreigners struggle with this part of Chinese company culture.
One thing worth mentioning, however, is that workers in China usually get fairly sizable annual bonuses. At the bigger companies where overtime is very common, bonuses can be anything from three to eight months’ salary. In a way, these cherry-on-top payments can be seen as compensation for a year of otherwise unpaid overtime.
As an employee in any country, talking to management can be a daunting experience. In the West and China, however, this form of communication typically takes two very different routes.
In the West, a good manager is expected to create an environment whereby staff can give constructive feedback and share their opinions on the way the company is run. Those who are able to find solutions to problems or offer up fresh ideas are highly valued.
In China, staff must be very careful when raising concerns to management. “Face” is extremely important, so any feedback for management should be shared in private rather than in a meeting. Those members of staff who can take instructions and complete a task without fuss are highly valued.
While the Chinese approach can help with team unity, as all employees must work together to realize a manager’s dream, it can sometimes create issues. If a member of staff is too scared to speak to their manager about a major problem or an unrealistic deadline, they will instead move the pressure onto other colleagues, other departments, or even clients.
In the West, team building isn’t such a big deal. Some companies don’t do it at all, and those that do usually limit it to a work lunch or an afternoon trip. Team building usually happens within working hours and participation is usually optional.
Team building plays a much more important role in Chinese company culture, however. You’d be hard-pressed to find a Chinese company that doesn’t do some kind of team building, whether it be a day at a training camp, a night at KTV, or a long weekend touring another city.
Chinese team building activities can often be day-long affairs, if not entire weekends. As an employee you are expected to attend, even if it’s taking up your personal time.
On the other hand, these group excursions can be a lot of fun, giving you a chance to bond with your colleagues and visit somewhere new. And as all costs will probably be covered, it’s basically a free holiday!
In most other countries, there would be grounds for concern if you were found sleeping in the office. Maybe you were up all night drinking? Maybe you’re ill and should be at home? Basically, it’s not the done thing.
In China, however, it’s very much the norm. Colleagues will rush to gobble down their lunches so they can get back to the office as soon as possible to nap slouched over their desks or even on fold-out beds.
It’s so much the norm in Chinese company culture that colleagues are expected to respect lunch time as the time when people sleep. Lights are turned off, curtains are drawn, and if anyone makes noise – from chatting to watching videos – they will be chastised by their colleagues and even their bosses. Impromptu naps outside of lunchtime are also fairly common.
In the West, people are relatively spoilt when it comes to annual leave. The UK gets 37 days, while France gets 38 and Sweden gets 41. In China, beyond the national holidays, there’s no obligation to give staff further annual leave. Most companies do offer some additional leave, but it tends to be laughingly minimal.
In order to take a break outside of national holidays, therefore, staff in China need to take unpaid leave. Most foreigners are more than willing to do this every now and then, but the majority of Chinese workers seem to value a full salary over vacation time.
In the West, you’re expected to keep your little slice of the office in a reasonably tidy state. People keep their desk clean and usually free of personal affects, save for a photo or two of the spouse and kids. Desks can be tidy to the point of being a little bit dull and depressing.
In China, however, staff like to bring a bit of character and personality to their workspaces. It’s not unusual to find desks decorated with photos of friends, bobble heads and cuddly toys from their favorite movies or TV shows, novelty mugs, pens and computer accessories, and even cushions and blankets to make the workday nap all the more comfortable.
You may be a person who likes things to be neat and tidy, but it’s hard to deny that Chinese workspaces aren’t more fun and homely.
Some of the oddities listed above make a lot more sense when you consider that Chinese company culture promotes the idea of colleagues as a family.
With the long working hours and weekends in the office, staff spend a lot of time together. Furthermore, there are the team building trips and, in many companies, colleagues even live together in staff accommodation.
It’s natural that when spending more time together, staff become closer. Whereas in the West many like to keep a clear distinction between work and personal life, in China the two can be a lot more intertwined. While some foreigners may feel uncomfortable with this at first, over time they often see the benefits.
The family-style culture in Chinese companies can act as a support network for foreigners who are new or alone in China. Colleagues can become friends very quickly, giving you people to spend the holidays with or just to go for dinner with after work.
Your colleagues can help you adapt to life in China by giving you valuable advice or even just a recommendation of where and what to eat. If anything goes wrong while you’re here, be it with your landlord, visa, or something else, you can bet your colleagues will help in whatever way they can. This kind of set up gives you guanxi for life!
What other unique things about Chinese company culture have you noticed? Tell us in the comments section below.
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Keywords: Chinese company culture
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1) Excessive overtime is recognised as unhealthy and potentially dangerous. Not to mention, the amout of excessive overtime ultimately only benefits the employer. Being expected to do overtime on a regular basis denotes poor planning and/or poor time management. 2) a manager who hides behind their position, and demands being give 'face' is usually, in my experience, a poor team leader. 3) I am not paid enough to spend time with my colleagues in bs 'team building' exercises, whose only point seems to be an 'ego-stroke' for the employer. 4) 'nap time' became unnecessary by the time i was 2 years old. 5) I work to live. Anyone who has worked in China knows that more often than not, public holidays then require 'make-up' work time at the weekend, negating any benefit of time off. 6) BS. I am allowed keep personal items on my desk at work, but they are usually limited to items such as a calender or such like, not childish toys. It is a professional environment, not a nursery or a playground. 7) No, these people are not my family and neither myself nor my colleagues want someone who 'stalks' them, as has happened when working in China, by work colleagues that did not keep appropriate professional boundaries.
May 05, 2019 00:10 Report Abuse