#12 Dealing with cultural differences in the workplace
The stark cultural differences between China and the West are frequently identified as key barriers in productive professional exchanges. However, the mechanisms by which people can actually improve their cultural understanding — or “cultural literacy” — are less clear. How can professionals in China and the West bridge gaps in understanding to ensure that business can sail smoothly?
Beatrix Frisch – general manager, Mackevision
Joey Wang – script writer
And, as usual, your host, Aladin Farré.
Three main takeaways from this week’s episode:
1) In Chinese workplaces, flexibility is key.
Partially as a result of China’s incredibly competitive labor market, workplaces in China tend to be much more flexible than their counterparts in the West. Media professionals should be ready at any moment for a change in a script or the editing of a commercial, with little notice or supporting budget. At the same time, Chinese workers will almost always respond to their emails on a Saturday evening or late at night (a habit that is far from widespread in Europe, for example). All of this results in sky-high rates of employee turnover as burnout and ambition take their toll.
2) Top-down approaches are standard in China.
In the office, the boss is king. He (or she!) will always get the last word, no matter how much work went into a project beforehand. However, if an employee is flexible and patient, they can hopefully avoid the worst surprises.
3) Chinese work culture is constantly evolving.
Whether the workplace is a state-owned enterprise or a private, international firm, internal procedures will inevitably vary wildly. What remains constant is that China has come a long way since the beginning of the reform and opening up period, so “middlemen” who take commissions only to put people in contact tend to be less important.
Recommended watching and listening:
The Flower of War (2011): Wikipedia
Sinica Podcast: “Dashan and David Moser on the Chinese language”: Link
Answers to the episode quiz:
- Matteo Ricci (1552–1610) was an Italian Jesuit priest who became the first European to enter the Forbidden City of Beijing in 1601, when the Wanli Emperor 万历帝 sought his services in court astronomy and calendrical science. He converted several prominent Chinese officials to Catholicism and translated Euclid’s Elements into Chinese as well as the Confucian classics into Latin.
- Da Shan 大山, or Mark Henry Rowswell, is a Canadian comedian and television personality who is one of the most famous Western personalities in China. He has appeared several times on CCTV’s Spring Festival Gala since 1988.
- The Flower of War (2011) is the second-biggest flop at the Chinese box office after The Great Wall (2016). Zhang Yimou directed both films.