Some Interesting Things to Know About Chinese Work Culture

In China, working for 12 hours per day is normal in some fields. (Image: pixabay / CC0 1.0)
In China, working for 12 hours per day is normal in some fields. (Image: pixabay / CC0 1.0)

The work culture of one region may not be like other places. It will vary between continents, nations, and sometimes even specific regions within countries. For an American, working in China can come as a shock when faced for the first time. Having basic info about how the Chinese work and interact with their co-workers will be of great help in case you have to travel to the Asian country as part of your job.

Overtime

One of the standout features of China’s working environment is that people are usually accustomed to working overtime, which often is never compensated. This can often be a surprise to Americans who usually work for 9 hours a day and get paid for any overtime they put in. To be clear, the Chinese government does have a law that mandates that employees are made to work only for 8 hours per day. Only 36 hours of overtime is permitted. However, such rules are usually overlooked, especially in the tech industry where 12-hour schedules are the norm.

Founder of Alibaba Jack Ma even endorsed the harsh working times, saying that those who are not able to work for 12 hours should not even apply to the company. Recently, there has been an employee pushback to cut down on the work time. But since leaders of the tech industry worry that doing so would affect their international competitiveness, not much progress has taken place on the matter. So if you work in any field related to technology, keep in mind that you might have to work longer than usual.

One of the standout features of China’s working environment is that people are usually accustomed to working overtime, which often is never compensated. (Image: pixabay / CC0 1.0)

One of the standout features of China’s working environment is that people are usually accustomed to working overtime, which often is never compensated. (Image: pixabay / CC0 1.0)

Deep relationships

When you arrive at your Chinese workplace, you will be expected to know everyone well eventually. Co-workers often hang out after office hours, drinking, eating out at restaurants, or even visiting other places. Not participating in their invitations can make you appear too self-centered. And in a collectivist society, you better ensure that people don’t view you as selfish or prudish. Chinese people are deeply attached to their families and many of them will invite you to their family home during important events like the Chinese New Year.

Contractual flexibility

In America, a contract is iron clad. To get the other party to add certain conditions or modify existing agreements in the contract can be tough. But in China, people are willing to be flexible. In case you find that something needs to be added to a contract, talk to the other party. If what you ask is reasonable, they will likely agree to the changes.  

Napping is okay

This might come as a surprise to you — napping is considered okay in China. One might think that a society that mandates a 12-hour working day might be strict about how the time is spent. But it seems like businesses are okay with employees sleeping, as it is viewed as a tradeoff for making them work for long hours.

Sleeping is okay in Chinese offices. (Image: Simon Law via flickr CC BY-SA 2.0)

Government connections

Being an authoritarian state, the government keeps a tab on everything in the country, including businesses. You will have to develop relationships with officials so that the business you work for does not get caught up in any trouble. Never antagonize authorities, as it can bite back very painfully in the future. In America, any corrupt or condescending official can be sued and brought to court. That is not the way Chinese society works. If you are unsure how to deal with such people, watch how your co-workers and managers interact and handle such relationships in a similar manner. 

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