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Most Western people seem to have the same kind of prejudices or first thoughts, when thinking about China. One of the first thoughts they have in mind about Chinese businesses or Chinese mentality is their culture of copying other companies’ Intellectual Property or bad stories of failed joint ventures. However, a lot of innovative global Chinese companies like Huawei or Baidu have been risen up in China the past years. Chinese and European/ American cultures vary much from each other, therefore also business cultures.
Back to the roots, ethical codes by philosopher Confucius or Laozi can still be found in the way of doing business and behaving of Chinese people. Confucian ethical code consists of five constants which shall be followed by every member of society.
The five constants for example still influences the Chinese culture and business culture: benevolence, justice, proper rite, knowledge, and integrity. Moreover, it is followed by four virtues: loyalty, filial piety, contingency, and righteousness. Many years ago, the lack of a juridical system in China led Chinese to pursue the ancient thinkers’ values in life as well as business.
Whereas the Unites States was driven by values like freedom, American companies like Google give their employees much freedom in their working hours or the opportunity to do home office. Many Chinese companies, on the other hand, are still driven by survival and the goal to make a fortune to stop being poor. Some decades ago, the developing country was completely in poverty. Now Chinese government plans to eradicate poverty by 2020. According to Statistics, in 2016, the year-over-year growth of millionaires in China accounted 10.7% with a total number of 1,340,000 Chinese millionaires.
People working for instance in Shanghai bring various cultural backgrounds with them, as they originally moved from different Chinese provinces or even abroad. They relocate to the big cities for better education as well as better job opportunities to feed their families back home, and also try hard to provide their children better lives by investing all their money in their education like learning English. You can slowly see Chinese companies like Alibaba Group in Hangzhou or also corporates or international companies in Shanghai for example providing well-being opportunities like financial support of gym memberships, or provision of meditation or yoga rooms in co-working spaces. However, this is also influenced by Western trends.
Coming back to the situation of still many Chinese people, they have a financial pressure to get a good job in a bank or a company, take care of their families, for men to buy an apartment in order to be able to find a wife to marry, parents’ pressure to marry in their 20s, get children, pay off their apartment, provide your children good education, etc. Looking at Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, many Chinese companies focus their business culture on the minimum in order to provide their employees with the basic needs. Whereas in developed countries like the U.S., the focus is rather on the upper needs like self-actualization, as people do not need to fight for the basic physiological and safety needs.
Speaking with a variety of employees at different branches of Alibaba Group like Taobao or AliCloud, it was interesting to understand the employees’ daily pressures and why many employees do not take advantage of the provided courses related to the science of happiness, meditation, holiday days, or the sponsored vacation to Thailand, but continue working.
A Senior HR Manager of the international headquarter in Hangzhou, for example, described her work life as this: She worked not only during the week, but also often during the weekend. Twice a month, she provided a training to customers which resulted in a working day from 8am until 2am. This training also had to be prepared with a similar working time. Chinese mentality shows the wish for immediate response to WeChat messages or emails. As her customers needed feedback to their homework in the late evening, after finishing work in the office, she had to go back to her laptop at home around 10 or 11pm, to give feedback to her clients’ homework. Nevertheless, according to her, the hard work pays off and is worth it, once she receives her manager’s recognition and attention. Eventually she was rewarded with a hóng bao (紅包), a typical Chinese red envelope with a money bonus, which she would then spend with her team on having dinner. Eventually she was lucky because a few Chinese Yuan were left for her.
Managers from various international companies in Suzhou reported, once they implemented more benefits and flexibility in the employees’ workplace, they could see the trend of a growing laziness. This provided them with a new challenge and the counter-effect of what they wanted to achieve.
Achieving happiness at work or satisfied employees, is not a company’s main target in China. Keeping harmony and good relationships with co-workers or family members is more important, as well as keeping your face even if you disagree with your manager which a normal Chinese would not express in front of everyone else.
Money is still a big driver and motivation for most Chinese people. Nevertheless, you cannot generalize peoples’ needs and business cultures of companies in the developed Eastern part of China with the less developed Western part. Keeping these factors in mind as well as ethical codes of Confucius and Laozi, you can describe different types of business cultures in China and compare different criteria with business cultures of developed countries.
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