International marketing talents recruitment: special session

Marketing Talents - China Opportunities

Helping Chinese companies locate international talents

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    Chinese Work Culture Vs American

    Okay, so you're settled into your new job in China. Congrats! There are a great many things you should know now about how the workplace in China differs from the West. While there are stark differences between workplaces across the same hallway, let alone from different continents and cultures, appreciating and understanding different workplace cultures is the first step to truly integrating into your China job. This article will discuss some of the subtleties and cultural differences that international employees in China may face.

    Company Culture

    There is a common belief that in the West, office banter is not only acceptable but actively encouraged by superiors. As long as employees get their job done, managers normally leave them alone to do things like listen to music, take breaks, socialize, and surf the web. Colleagues and managers will often go for lunch or a drink after work, but serious “organized fun” activities are few and far between. Instead than focusing on team building activities, events like Christmas and retirement parties generally center on alcohol.

    Traditional Chinese work cultures put a far higher value on things like obeying authority, creating intimate ties, and adhering to established norms than their Western counterparts do. In order to demonstrate that they feel at home in their workplace, employees will likely bring in potted plants and other mementos from home. This means that many Chinese companies encourage a more familial atmosphere than their Western counterparts. Regular non-boozy lunches and official team building activities, such as obstacle courses and military-style boot camps, are implemented with the objective of fostering a larger collective spirit. As you may have guessed, working for the common good is a highly significant notion in China.

    Roles and Responsibilities

    In Western workplaces you’ll generally find that positions and duties are clearly defined and dispersed among personnel. The person will make an effort to finish their own work, demonstrating their own abilities in the process. Moving laterally to remark on or work in areas not allocated to you might be perceived as “stepping on toes”.

    The reality of working in China is that your superior may assign you tasks outside the scope of your position. An organization's culture is one in which everyone works toward a shared goal. When help is needed, everyone should be willing to pitch in, regardless of whether the task is within their expertise or not. You can show your dedication to the job by assisting your coworkers with any and all tasks.


    The Western workplace is more relaxed when compared to Eastern models. Though the United States formerly used the ticket punching method, these days it's generally accepted as long as the task is completed. In most workplaces you’ll witness people laboring to the clock, with a huge departure around 5/6pm, except for those working on last-minute duties. Overtime is far less prevalent than in China, and employees are commonly rewarded with additional compensation, flexible working hours or time off if working extra hours is required.

    The Chinese culture emphasizes the value of teamwork but also values individual success and recognition. It's unusual for workers to simply walk out the door when their shift ends; many stay and put in unpaid overtime as a show of good faith. While supporting one other and working as a team is the norm, there is a delicate balancing act between that and trying to please the boss. The desire to prove one's worth motivates many workers to go above and beyond the call of duty.


    The occasional tardiness is acceptable in Western companies provided it is not a pattern. Time lost due to tardiness is generally recoverable by day's end. There are still certain organizations that require employees to check in upon arrival, but the consequences for failing to do so are not as severe as they would be, say, in China. In most cases, a person who repeatedly causes problems will get many warnings before any serious action is done.

    However, in China, tardiness is seen as a major indicator of dedication to the work. Being punctual is highly valued in Chinese society; in fact, some companies even have salary penalty systems that reduce an employee's pay by a tiny amount for each instance of tardiness. The Chinese see punctuality as an easy but significant sign of respect and honesty in the workplace.

    Hierarchy and Layout

    Current Western workplaces often adopt more horizontal structures. Managers at the top may keep their offices, but they'll likely make a big deal about how accessible they are to employees. If an employee has any concerns about work or personal life, they should feel free to contact management by knocking on the glass wall surrounding their office.

    The structure of a typical Chinese workplace is complex, with many tiers and layers of management. Everyone has someone above them to report to, and even within the same team, there may be a different chain of command depending on factors such as seniority or salary. This is reflected in the layout of the office: the higher up the hierarchy someone is, the less you will interact with them. Managers are typically hidden away in their individual offices, while the most senior officials can be missing completely. People have more deference and/or apprehension for persons in authoritative roles. For example, Chinese workers are significantly less inclined to crack a joke or discuss about their personal life with their supervisors.


    In the West, meetings are generally utilized as a technique to stimulate quick-fire dialogue and ideas. As a consequence you might anticipate coffee shop meetings, stand-up meetings and even plank meetings, when staff members must maintain a stress posture while chatting. This guarantees that arguments are succinct and to the point. There is a general trend in Western-style meetings to encourage input from everyone present, regardless of seniority or length of service.

    In the Chinese workplace, meetings (开会 - kāihuì) are viewed as official business and tend to be somewhat formal. There is often someone taking the meeting minutes, a large agenda and a number of attendees who only speak if they’re asked a specific question. Be ready to take notes and schedule the rest of your morning or afternoon around meetings if you are asked to one in a Chinese company. Those at higher levels of the organization tend to have more say in the discourse and are less likely to hear from those at lower levels.

    Please use the space below to let us know if there are any differences we've missed, to correct us if we're wrong, or to tell us about your own one-of-a-kind experiences.