Business and Workplace Culture In China: Touchy Topics Necessary to Understand.
China’s culture is fundamentally based on the 2500-year-old teachings of Confucius, and usually revolves around relationships, group, risk aversion and a strict power structure. It is historically collective in nature, unlike the individualistic American culture. For the last two decades, China has been striving to achieve globalization although its traditional workplace and business cultures are still quite evident. China’s state-dominated market is structurally hierarchical, which is why employees expect guaranteed benefits and employment.
China is successfully but consciously making the transition of embracing a more western culture with the help of the younger generation who are influenced by internet and pop culture. For China to represent a more profitable expansion route, it needs to strike the balance between capitalistic requirements for global competition and historically collectivist roots. By using Hofstede’s cultural dimensions for work and leadership, we can be able to analyze modern China. We can understand how expats can improve productivity, improve interpersonal relationships, and increase company profits. China falls into the following five groups
1. The Degree of Individualism
Individualism describes the relationship between the individual and the immediate community. The level of individualism in China is minimal since China gives more focus on the group compared to individuals. In such a society, interpersonal relationships and group affiliations are the focus. Unlike in individualistic cultures whereby members view themselves as autonomous from the organization, in collective cultures, the group comprises part of the member’s identity. Research has shown that in collective cultures, managers give higher performance evaluations and rewards compared to their individualistic counterparts.
In China, individuals are willing to sacrifice personal goals for the group and loyalty is always promoted hence it’s very hard for a Chinese worker who has developed strong ties with a team to drop it and focus on individual projects. Their mantra has always been the needs of many outweigh the personal desire of one, something that most expatriates find strange. For any foreigner working in China, it’s imperative that you understand this principle and live by it.
2. Power Distance
Power distance refers to the extent in which a society accepts that power’s distribution is not equal, and its establishment is usually through superiors and subordinates. China is a society with high power distance in that an individual with power enjoy greater privileges and status while those with no power are less likely disagree with or challenge the superiors. The rank structure clearly delineates between subordinates and the management, and disagreement with the superior is unacceptable.
However, in China, the superiors are expected to develop relationships with the subordinates, known as “guanxi.” This principle will allow the weaker members to ask for favors from the superiors who are obliged to respond. In as much as their clearly defined lines establishing authority in China, the managers still have to build a rapport with workers for them to ask and expect to receive support. While working in China, be prepared for the cultural facets and be enlightened about power distance and “guanxi” and strike a balance between the two for you to be successful.
3. Intolerance for uncertainty
Uncertainty avoidance is the degree to which members of a society feel uncomfortable with ambiguous situations and prefer avoiding them. China has a high intolerance for uncertainty whereby the managers are less approachable, more controlling and unlikely to delegate some duties to their subordinates. They do not place as much trust to their employees as the case would be with their western counterparts. But with the increasing Western influences, the uncertainty avoidance in China is leaning towards the lower side as it opens itself towards globalization and businesses becoming private.
4. Degree of Assertiveness
In China, the extent of assertiveness is great since it is a masculine society where material possession, money and assertiveness are the dominant values. Caring for the quality of life and others is secondary in this society. If you are a leader, then you must be aggressive, assertive and decisive and usually, the subordinates are not supposed to question your authority. However, saving face and honor are very paramount in Chinese workplace culture hence being so direct may be viewed as insulting and can easily harm relationships. People of China are also reluctant to raise red flags on problems unless there is no other option and they try to minimize the seriousness.
5. Long-term orientation
China scores high on this since it saves for the future and only makes decisions after a detailed and careful analysis and value persistence.
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