The work culture in China might be different from what employees from other countries are used to. As expected, each country has its own characteristics, which anyone has to be aware of.
A healthy work culture is often sought out by anyone looking for a job. Doing so is one of the major deciding factors, especially because many hours will be spent at the office. A work culture that is aligned with one’s goals, values, and behaviors paves the way for personal and career development.
What is the Work Culture in China Like?
1. Hierarchy is important
A question or comment from a junior employee to a senior manager, no matter how casual it may be, should be avoided. It could appear as criticism to others, even without intending it to be so. This is very much unwelcome in the workplace.
Similarly, junior employees often do as the senior employees say. Guidelines and instructions passed down are not questioned any further. They just get the job done as best as they can. However, as you go up the corporate ladder, there is more room to be creative and involved in the process. When they gain the expertise needed for the job and the trust of their colleagues, employees can build on what was given to them.
Compared to other cultures, titles at work are important in China. Those who belong to the upper ranks are treated with high regard, especially by employees in entry-level positions. This is in comparison to Western culture, where every individual on the team is treated equally, regardless of their position. There is usually no need to address superiors by the title they hold.
Cross Functional Collaboration is Difficult
The hierarchical nature of the work culture in China limits communication among departments. Each department tends to keep to themselves, treating other employees from different departments as outsiders. Without open communication, it becomes difficult to work together to attain shared goals.
Furthermore, before other departments share information, they have to ensure that the recipient is someone they trust. This is because confidentiality is given much importance in the workplace. Others may develop a negative perception of an employee who persistently requests information that is not being freely given.
2. Saving and losing face
Disagreeing with or showing disappointment towards a superior, especially when done in public, should not be done. The concept of “saving and losing face” is very much ingrained in the culture of China. It refers to keeping a status of respect among peers and avoiding humiliation. Because of this, any disagreement, mistake, or comment should be communicated in private.
In line with this, when a concern arises, it is often not communicated to the manager or client. Employees either ignore them or find ways to solve them on their own. This enables them to avoid any humiliation that may come with making a mistake or not following the plan to the dot.
3. Collective thinking trumps individualistic thinking
Importance is given to the group as a whole rather than to the individual employees themselves. As such, the success of the group is celebrated more than the success of a lone employee. If an individual does a great job at work, they should remain humble about it. At the same time, it is not always welcome to voice out all suggestions in meetings, no matter how many and great they are.
Doing otherwise will make the employee look boastful, which disrupts the harmony in the team. Work culture in China dictates that harmony among members should always be upheld.
4. Work doesn’t end after the normal working hours
According to the labor laws of the country, a standard work day lasts for 8 hours, with a maximum of 44 hours per week.
However, this is often just seen on paper. Employees usually work overtime, especially those in the tech sector. Continuing work beyond established hours is perceived positively. It indicates that employees are working hard and are dedicated to the company.
Recently, more employees in China are favoring companies that do not have such long working hours. They prefer working within their normal hours so that they can clock off once the day is done. This gives them time for themselves and their other responsibilities.
5. It’s okay to take a nap after lunch
There is nothing wrong with sleeping in the workplace, as long as it doesn’t last the whole day, of course. After having lunch, employees sit back, turn the lights out, and make themselves comfortable in preparation for a well-deserved nap. This gives them the boost of energy they need to continue on with the rest of the day. Because of this, it wouldn’t be too uncommon to see colleagues keeping a stash of pillows, blankets, or eye masks at the office.
Senior managers who happen to see this sight do not fume with anger. They take it as a sign that the employee is doing their best for the success of the company, which makes them feel tired. Taking a nap is a good exchange for the long hours spent at work.
6. Networks and connections are important
Anyone coming to China should be familiar with the concept of “guanxi,” which is loosely translated as “connection” or “relation.”
But it is more than that. It specifically “refers to having personal trust and a strong relationship with someone, and can involve moral obligations and exchanging favors.”
Because of this, having someone else do a favor should not just end with a simple expression of gratitude. Rather, the recipient should pay it back to the one who did the favor. They should return the gesture as deemed suitable.
Furthermore, it is important to put in the effort to be part of the team. An employee should show a willingness to work with everyone else so that they can achieve their goals together. Because of this, individuals should not be shy about sharing a drink with colleagues after work. Declining invitations to team gatherings could be off-putting.
966 Work Culture in China
966 refers to working from 9 a.m. until 9 p.m. for six days a week. It gained popularity after Jack Ma, the founder of Alibaba, gave incentives to employees who worked harder and longer so that the company could perform better. He believes that working 12 hours a day creates a path to success. “How do you achieve the success you want without paying extra effort and time?” Ma said.
Working longer hours enabled companies to grow at unmatched rates over a short period of time. This is often observed in the tech sector.
However, this work culture has been met with opposition. The demanding schedule was deemed unsustainable, especially because many worked overtime without being paid for it. Working day through night also left little time, if any, for personal matters. This has contributed to the popularity of the “tang ping,” or “lie flat,” movement among young adults in China.
Last year, the supreme court in the country ruled that the 966 work culture in China was illegal.
With this, individuals planning to move to the country or work with Chinese colleagues have to be mindful of the important factors of work culture in China listed above. Doing so can be helpful in coping with the working environment so that employees can be on their way to success.