Country and Work Culture in South east Asia

For most westerners working in South East Asia their first contact with locals in the workplace will be certainly different than from starting a new job in western countries, especially if the foreigner is in a managerial position. This was my experience having worked in Australia my whole professional life and taking a management role in Indonesia was going to prove a whole different experience altogether.
Most south East Asian people look up to western people and culture in way that may give a sense of importance and admiration in some cases. Although in most cases this may seem empowering but this good nature and cultural difference should be well understood and westerners will benefit greatly from understanding both the local culture and the workplace culture in these countries.

Workplace culture is in some ways similar to some western countries but has difference that set them apart. Respect between employees is usually important and the way people address, talk and interact with each other is very dependent on a person’s status. A person’s status is very important in Asian culture and is both determined by title, social standing and wealth. Westerners are usually regarded as of a higher status in the workplace and thus may explain being treated differently at least during the first few months of working with locals.

Locals usually take things to heart and are warmer in their dealing with each other. When dealing with problems or mistakes never address the employee involved in front of colleagues, it is best to address this one on one. If you are in a managerial position always show support for employees and managers below yourself. A usual conversation at work will usually start with a social theme such as family or trivial subjects and then will proceed to business. These slight differences are actually important in maintaining productive relationships.

In some large cities it is common that many employees are from villages far away from the city they work in. They usually go home to their villages once or twice a year for major holidays if their home village is far, this is usually very important for most employees as it may be the only chance to spend time with their families and enjoy traditional meals and religious ceremonies together. Most south East Asian countries have conservative cultures where public image or “face” is very important.

It is quite common in countries such as Indonesia that people from different parts of the country although having university degrees may seem to have quite different levels of education or intellectual capability. This may be due to several factors such as different educational curriculums between schools in different cities and the varying quality of secondary schools and universities which is common in countries such as Indonesia.

Religion and community

Religion is a big part of life in some South east Asian countries such as Indonesia and Malaysia, it influences not only family life and values but quite regularly its influence can be seen everywhere from television shows, social interaction and status, interaction between older and younger work colleagues. It is a good idea to learn, if different from your religion, the general characteristics of the most common religions and what certain restraints or customs are followed with these. This will help understand many social interactions between local employees and within the community.

In many of these countries people tend to be very social and community interaction is quite high and expected. Villages both within the cities and outside the metropolitan areas depend on its residents to both organize and carryout tasks such as security, waste collection, repairs and upkeep to common areas such as roads and alleys. Where businesses are located within or in close proximity to villages they are also considered part of the community and are expected to contribute to community efforts and provide monetary contributions for community and religious activities.

In my experience both knowing and understanding the local culture and customs is very beneficial in both settling in and leading a productive team

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