Managing Southeast Asian employees is not that different from managing U.S. employees. Thanks to the internet, communication and exchange of ideas have been, in fact, easier and faster. Any important event happening in any part of the world is easily advertised, read and seen online. Still, most countries in Southeast Asia are still developing, where industries are still being built and skills are still being taught. This is no surprise, since Asia is known for agriculture than industrialism.
Countries like Malaysia, Thailand, and Indonesia are facing shortage in skilled and technical workers. This is inevitable in growing economies. Education in these countries is still trying to produce trained employees to fill the needed workforce due to the rapid growth of their economy, and up to a certain scale, most countries in Southeast Asia are still facing this problem.
Ever since outsourcing has started booming, agricultural countries in Asia have been introduced to the industrialism of the west. This gives out a lot of pros and cons given the differences of both worlds. Below are the most significant differences that one should consider when handling Southeast Asian employees:
* Culture—Southeast Asia is very diverse, ethnically and religiously. Thailand practices Buddhism while Indonesia and Malaysia are Muslim countries. Philippines is predominantly Catholic, although its southern part is mostly Muslim. Religious practices and holidays also vary among the countries in Southeast Asia.
* Language—Majority of the workforce in Southeast Asia can speak English, although it is still their second language and their education system varies among them. Notably, Philippines’ educational system is more established compared to other Southeast Asian countries, with 10 years of required school with lessons conducted both in English and Filipino (its official language).
* Environment/Weather Conditions—Southeast Asian countries always face tropical typhoons, where most of these countries experience rain and summer seasons. More often than not, these typhoons cause major blackouts and floods.
* Time Zones—Working with Asian employees also poses the problem of time zones. Most outsourcing companies require their employees to come to work on U.S. time, which means working at night. This is not very ideal to most workers on matters of safety and family time. However, majority of companies would offer “night difference” in the salary to compensate.
Here are some established guidelines for handling Southeast Asian employees:
• While most Asian employees working for U.S. companies have impeccable English, one should be careful when using American expressions. Subtext of expressions is more of a cultural sense than the language itself, and miscommunication results in misunderstanding.
• It is always best to get Asian employees who have been immersed in U.S. culture for easier communication. They don’t need to be people who lived in the U.S.–these can be people who are immersed in American culture, and most of them are taught and seen in schools, internet and television among others.
• Getting an employee who has lived in both countries would be very helpful, especially in managing positions. They can be the best of both worlds–they can easily relate to you more, and they can deliver and communicate more than their counterparts.
• Groom your managers to be your extension but hire the ones who have a good balance of cultures.
• Get great HR managers (great, not just good). Human Resource managers are the bridge of every company, and they can help build the communication lines to you and your employees. You may also consider hiring HR personnel who have studied or even worked abroad. Those willing go back to their homeland for employment is another way to find qualified candidates. Not only would their skill and education help the company; they are also familiar with eastern and western customs.
• Communication is the lifeblood of every company. Hence, you should invest a lot in having your communication lines stable. Internet and phone lines are advised to be up-to-date for effectiveness and prevention of delays, especially since time zones are not in sync. Having stable communication can effectively execute plans on time.
• Get an English language trainer that could train them English grammar and usage, American culture and expressions. Even if you already have employees that speak good English, having a trainer to refresh them will make communication firmer. This is in consideration that English is not their first language and the cultures of both countries are definitely different; keeping your employees on the loop of American news will also help them get to know the American culture.
• In every relationship there’s always at least two parties participating and putting effort into knowing each other. Try to get to know some of the basics of what the culture is in each of the countries in Asia. Knowing the difference between China and Korea (they make look the same, but their cultures differ immensely), for instance; this way, you’ll know that your Ninja jokes may only be reserved for people in Japan.
• Study labor laws in each country. Each country has its own labor laws that you need to get acquainted with to help you better manage your Southeast Asian employees.
• Visit your offices. It is important that you get to know your employees even for a brief time so you can have a better feel of how they are personally like outside the office chat box, emails and calls. Not only will you be able to know them better–you can also see the progress of your office on an ocular basis and your employees would feel like they matter to the growth of the company.
• Observe local holidays in each country. While this may not be ideal if they are working on U.S. time, this would help you to determine holiday pays and keep your employees happy because you acknowledge their culture. In countries like the Philippines, it is normally a declared holiday on the 1st and 2nd of November (All Souls’ and All Saints’ Day). They normally travel to their provinces and meet with their relatives to visit their dead and reunite with family and friends in their respective provinces. Consider addressing some of your employees’ religious needs. Muslims in Indonesia and Malaysia might wish to pray five times daily and their meals in accordance to Islam customs.
Just remember that it’s all about communication. Differences are only up to a certain degree and you’ll find more similarities in customs that you can associate with. These are just some tips to help you get to know and work in harmony with your Southeast Asian employees but it would still be up to you to keep the communication open to both parties. Keep in mind that communication is the lifeblood of every relationship.
*Anne Zeygerman was born and raised in Manila, Philippines. She currently lives at Global city the Fort and enjoys the sun and the islands beaches.