Expectations and Experiences of Chinese Employees at Western Companies

by | December 1, 2016

Expectations and Experiences of Chinese Employees at Western Companies

by | December 1, 2016

Working for a Western company and boss is becoming more commonplace for Chinese employees these days. This is a new trend and brings new visions on what is to be expected from “us” Westerners. This article lists some of the most amusing and most often occurring views Chinese employees have of their potential Western employers.

“I did not even dare to ask for days off in my first year, as it is not normal to get these. When I heard that I had as least 5 days off, I was very happy!”

In collaboration with Floor Nobels owner of headhunting agency Worklife Recruitment, we sat down with our hires, Chinese friends and team members who work for Western firms. Our first question was: What did you expect it is like to work for a foreign company?

For many Chinese professionals, the first idea is that Western companies active in China pay better salaries and provide better working conditions. They expect better welfare arrangements, Saturday and Sunday as dedicated days off work and more holidays. So, these are seen as huge positive factors which are in high demand. In contrast, Chinese companies do not always allow employees to take their 5 days leave in the first year of employment. Furthermore, social insurances sometimes are paid at a bare minimum.

English to close the gap of communication

“I have spent a lot of money on improving my English. 250 RMB per class for a few months of classes. So, the fact that I got a better pay because my new firm needed me to use English was worth the investment.”

An expected problem with their new non-Chinese boss is the communication. The issues are both about language differences and difference in policies and laws. To overcome this expected challenge, many Chinese are taking English classes privately to improve. These cost relatively a lot of money, but can mean a better job. For many Chinese, the opportunity to practice English on a daily basis is an important benefit, as it means free self-improvement.

Also, expected differences in explaining rules and regulations was true in case of one of our hires. An example of difference in policies shows in the difference of taxes between China and foreign countries. Even experts in the same respective fields would not know what was happening in the other country. These create cultural differences as well, which our Chinese hires were not all too enthused about.

Bosses leaving suddenly

Chinese employees have two main fears regarding foreign employers. Firstly, that their foreign boss could leave the company suddenly. Secondly that the company might close. The origin of this fear lies in the fact that Chinese companies are often quite mature and have in the past been a very steady employer. Although we might think foreign employers would not leave a company so suddenly, Chinese employees where quite persistent on the issue.

Therefore, the friends we interviewed had very clear requirements for their future employers before they switched. We will list these requirements in our follow up article.

Actual Experiences of Chinese Employees at Western Companies

The most entertaining anecdotes come from the actual experiences. Often a big contributor to a difference is that the Chinese and Western view on SME companies differs quite a lot. Some of the bigger companies in China have thousands and thousands of employees, but you might have never heard from them. The sheer size of state owned companies and the giants in China makes that Chinese think companies of a few hundred employees is seen as small. Since Western companies in China are often an offshoot of a headquarters abroad, working with a team of two to ten colleagues is of course a huge change.

“Before I worked for a company of 8.000 employees and thousands at the location I worked. The company I work for now is so much smaller!”

Company outings

“Our company outings felt more like advertisement for the company than it was team bonding.”

Another fun difference was the view on the different style of company 1421-lakeoutings. Of course, both in Chinese and Western company outings there are always employees who dislike the activities regardless of what they are. But for larger Chinese corporations a company outing felt, to the people we spoke to, more like promoting the company than team bonding. Huge banners, matching company T-shirts and a lot of cheers do seem to like this. At the Western firms they felt like it was more about increasing the team spirit and having a good time and real laugh with your colleagues and bosses.

Invasion of privacy

A peculiar thing for Chinese employees was the fact that at a Western company, everyone including even the boss, inquires about very personal things like how someone’s weekend was. Or even the fact that everyone without exception greets everyone upon starting the day and saying goodbye at the end of the day. Colleagues asking each other out for after work drinks to chat in an informal setting was also seen as something they had to get used to.

“When I started working at the new company everyone always kept asking me how my weekend was, even my boss! I thought this was very weird, as it was none of his business. Now I know it was out of genuine interest.”

Benefits of Chinese employers

Now it seems like we only heard positive things about working for Western companies. This was not the case. There are a few very distinct benefits of working for a Chinese firm as a Chinese. The first is the very important guanxi option, or the ability to get benefits from the relationship someone has. The guanxi is a very important part of the Chinese society and a concept that many scholars have studied. In practice, it means that people can get very favourable positions via the relations they have. But it also means that over time working at a company for some time, good relationships with colleagues from HR can grant extra paid days off for example.

“In a Western company I cannot use my guanxi. Some extra benefits are now not part of the deal anymore.”

For Chinese factory workers working for a Chinese employer often means that extra over hours off the books are possible as well. These over hours are wanted by the workers, because it simply results in a higher salary. Longer holidays for Chinese New Year, the most important family holiday in China, are more easily granted by Chinese bosses as well. This is because they understand the importance of the holiday and sometimes even grant 25 to 30 days off.

“Getting extra days off for Chinese New Year is very easy with a Chinese boss, as they understand it is the most important holiday of the year. Foreigners just do not get this, as they have Christmas.”

“Also something which took some time to get used to is that for my foreign company I need to at least ask a month beforehand for days off or holidays. In China this can be done the week or even day before.”

Comparing the differences

We thought these anecdotes were the most peculiar when using a Western view. Summarizing the differences:

Western companies might have a better package at first sight, including better pay, more vacation days and welfare arrangements. But there is less of a proven track record compared to Chinese firms. The sheer size and guarantee of a large Chinese company is a plus, so is working with the same culture. Any language and culture differences with Western firms are, however, sometimes what is the attraction of working for one.

In our next article we want to share what requirements Chinese workers can, maybe should, have. This list is of importance to Western firms as well, as it guides them to be more compliant.


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