5 Things I’ve Learned From Working In A Chinese Company
It’s been 3 months, since I started working in a Chinese company here in Changsha, Hunan Province. Unlike the “typical” foreigner image in China, I do not teach English but work in the Marketing Department of a Chinese-German company selling computer accessories worldwide. As of now, I am the only foreigner working in the company – all my coworkers are Chinese. It’s not always easy and the “corporate” world in China differs a lot from the one in the West.
Here’s what I found out:
Being on Time is Essential
In my previous work experience, which basically consisted of summer work and internships, I was familiar with time cards. You “log yourself in” when you arrive in the morning, and then you check out in the evening when you go. This is mostly used for hourly workers, though. I used to work in a beverage company during a summer or two to earn some extra money and where i worked 8 hours at the belt lifting wine up and down.
In my Chinese company, you even need to check in and out using your fingerprint. There is a small device where you place your index finger and recognizes you and saving the time you arrived and left. This is a very strict procedure, because even if you are only 1 second late, it will mark you red.
On my first day of work, I was shown around by two co-workers who can speak decent English and I was introduced to all other coworkers and their position in the company. I greeted everybody and also introduced myself. Done – I thought.
However, when a new co-worker was employed after me, I noticed that despite being introduced to everybody in person, they still send out a mass email to everybody stating their professional background so far and sometimes even personal interests. When I asked one of my co-workers if this was a “thing” she said: “Yes, it’s polite in China. It’s a standard practice.”
So, if you started working in a Chinese company, send out a mass email to everybody with a short introduction about yourself. I am sure they will be impressed!
Another thing about being new in a Chinese company (and this is also true for Koreans) is that you need to “gain the acceptance” from your co-workers and boss by being the first to come and last to leave in the first working period. Also, interns and new employees in my company tend to go through the office in the morning and cleaning up.
Breakfast at the Office
I also noticed that most of my co-workers eat their breakfast at the office in the morning. There are lots of food vendors around the bus station and the office building itself offering all kinds of Chinese-style breakfast dishes to buy to go.
Now, I am also used to this practice because it simply saves time and is efficient. I get more time in the morning getting ready for work, I get on the bus and buy my breakfast in front of the office and eat it.
The selection for breakfast dishes is quite varied. You can get noodles or dumplings with different sauces, as well as Chinese egg muffins or steamed buns with different fillings! Super delicious and freshly made right on the spot for a couple RMB to buy.
Our offices are located in the city-center in a high-rise on the 24th floor. The entire building is full of offices. Therefore, the 3 elevators available are packed almost every morning, lunch time and evening. Usually, as many people enter the elevator as long as the warning sound did not go off. Now, I heard a lot of stories about elevators getting stuck and even collapse in China. I don’t see why this couldn’t happen here as well.
My co-workers told me, the emergency buttons don’t even work anymore. So in case the elevator gets stuck, you depend on the people outside to get help or you need to call for help using your cellphone, in case you have service.
So far, thank god, nothing happened with the elevators since I started working here. Let’s hope it stays that way.
Lots of my co-workers don’t leave the office during lunch-time. They either bring some leftovers, warm it up and eat it in the office or they order something for lunch and get it delivered directly to the office.
In our company, we get 1.5 hours for lunch. So, usually after my co-workers ate their lunch, they tend to rest for the last 30 minutes or so. They simply sleep at their desks. Sometimes, the entire office is silent and all of them are sleeping. That’s quite funny to me. But I must admit, I tried this special Chinese method a few times, too, and it is actually not that bad of an idea 😉
Napping after eating lunch is common practice in China. Not only employees do it but everybody. You can even see sales staff in stores nap during working hours a lot. Good night.
Overall, I can really say I enjoy working at a Chinese company. Even though, they do have different customs in the Chinese business world, people do not despise you as a foreigner because they know about the cultural differences. Therefore, a foreign employee is not expected to behave in the same way like their Chinese co-workers do. In the end, we all have to respect each other in and outside the office.
Ah I hate the packed elevators.
I do love the afternoon napping. I got used to it quick, and eventually I brought my own pillow to work… 🙂
haha that’s cool! didn’t know you work in China! What city?
cool! how long have you been there?
Bout 5 years now.
pretty cool! i did an internship in Guangzhou from 2012-2013 and now I started working in Changsha in May this year.
Hey I was in Guangzhou in 2011, just missed ya!
Check my blog archives for those stories 😉
cool! yeah I kinda started blogging after I left Guangzhou, what a pity!
I love reading your experience because some of the points where similar to my first thoughts when I did my internship in Suzhou.
There is also another difference, once you finish your internship is when everyone assumes you must do extra hours ( not paid, just like the rest of your colleagues) thats why the other day I said “real job”, when they consider you one employee more and you are already part of the team and everyone understands you are not there for some few weeks or months is when you start to become a “real employee” and take plenty of hours after work. So I always suggest to everyone to enjoy their first… 9 months in a company in China 😉
Being on time is very important in China, but I really feel sorry for my pregnant colleagues, I wish they could enter later and leave at a different time, just when is not rush hour for the subway you know…cant imagine how they feel all packed.
I would add a new point, when you are the only foreign employee you are not only “X position” you are more, you do what your title says but you also do other things such as…prepare presentations in English / other languages, review a sales pitch for a colleague, translate emails, translate documents, do research, find venues, find hoteles for business trips abroad, help with flights for business trips, …You are kind of a “X Manager” plus a PA.
I agree. Taking public transport in Shenzhen when you’re pregnant, it would already help a lot if you could get to work at 9:10 instead of 9:00.
poor Ruth 🙁
haha thanks Laura! Good point for the pregnant coworkers. That is totally true. Must be horrible for them to get through the rush hour mess 🙁
I’ve been working for a Taiwanese company in Taiwan for 18 months now, and I’ve gotta say that I can agree with most of the things you’re saying here. Breakfast at work, sleeping at lunch, impressing the boss by staying late, it all happens here as well! With the lunch nap, all the lights go out in the office about 30 minutes in to lunch time, and the place is silent with everyone sleeping!
cool! crazy right? everybody napping at the office haha. but it’s kind of nice to get a silent 30 minutes per day haha
Hi there Linda,
Great blog you have here, I enjoyed reading this post, and won’t hesitate going through the other ones!
I was looking to get to work in China, however being from and in Europe doesn’t help. Would you advise people to get there first, and look for work then? I have made a few contacts so far who told me they’d gladly take me on board in their companies (they’re China based), but that I needed to be in the country.
So that got me wondering, what the best way would be to get something there?
A last question fi you don’t mind, and if youever have the answer. Is is better to be located in Beijing, or Shanghai (are there more jobs there? compared to being located in the south of the country?) The south attracts me quite a lot actually… Oh and I don’t speak Mandarin, trying to learn!
Keep up the good work!
i see. i do think it’s difficult to be in the country first. that seems kind of shady to me. because you need to apply for your working visa in your home country, so going to China first doesn’t really make sense.
the website I can really recommend besides LinkedIn is Sinojobs. I found 2 positions on there. You can also upload your resume and employers and look through it. that’s how i found my current position.
the problem with the big cities like Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, Shenzhen etc. is that there is huge competition. Many foreigners and Chinese returnees are trying to find jobs in these cities. Honestly, i recommend you look for a job in a rather “unknown” city. Now, I am in Changsha. Not many people heard about it but it’s still a city of 6 million people and offers everything just like Shanghai. I am able to rent a 2 bedroom apartment for 2200 RMB there. Impossible in those popular cities. In my opinion, you can live much better in these places with less competition.
Thank you for your reply and info, I’ll look into it! You hit the nail on the head regarding the visa part, that’s exactly what I thought. I’ll look into the not “so well known” provinces. ^^
glad i was able to help! yes, maybe they wanted to avoid the hassle or even employ you illegally! be careful!
i am really happy in a “unknown” Chinese city!
Yes, I definitely will, scary though!
Linda, you are truly a brave white girl! Working for a Chinese company and dating a Korean guy. What experience to share?!
haha thank you! i am sharing as much as i can/want 😉 lots of new stories coming, promised!
It’s so great that you can grab breakfast outside if you’re running late (or if you just like eating Chinese food for breakfast). Haha. Sometimes we grab 油条 (the fried dough sticks) for only 1.5 RMB per piece. It’s so good!
There was one time when I went to the police station to get registered. I went around 1:30 PM, thinking that everyone’s naps would be over by then. Well, when I went upstairs, I walked past a hallway of rooms full of sleep policemen. Haha. It was pretty funny. Fortunately the guy that registers foreigners was awake…though I might have woken him up from his nap. I’ll never be sure.
haha sounds fun. yeah, the “security guards” in my apartment complex are also napping all the time. oh well 😀
Most of these resonate with me.
My company did have a few people who were allowed to come and go whenever they wanted, so in some companies the being-on-time factor doesn’t seem to apply to every employee (the ones who were allowed to come to work whenever they pleased were usually friends of the boss, though).
Never heard that newbies and interns are supposed to clean up. Maybe it was different in my company because we had a cleaning lady?!
yeah, if you are best buddies with your boss or have a high position, you can definitely more or less do as you please.
yeah, we are kind of still in the start-up/middle-sized company phase so we don’t have a cleaning lady. 🙁
What is the etiquette regarding strong-smelling food and eating in the office? In the US, people only brought in food to eat where the smell wouldn’t linger in the office all day, otherwise they would just eat it outside.
yeah, they don’t really care here. They eat what they want. But i have to say it doesn’t smell. and luckily, nobody brings in Durian fruit haha
omg, today someone totally brought “stinky doufu” 臭豆腐 to work… not nice.
Napping in the afternoon is very common across Asia, and you see it in the schools too. Research has actually shown that afternoon naps increase the productivity of workers significantly!
yeah that’s cool! actually, people in Southern Europe, countries like Italy, Spain, Portugal etc., people also nap there after lunch.
How about work-load and other things like office politics ? Do employees go to karaoke together after work ?
yeah we certainly do hang out together! it’s a lot of fun! i think my company here is pretty open and adapted western standards. Of course not always. But i don’t have a Chinese contract.
Wow, sounds pretty intreresting and rough :=)
I would love the long lunch time though, here in Finland we got always maximum 30min, to get food usually takes 20min so you end up stuffing everything in your mouth and run back to work…
I’m glad you are happy with your job! I see some of the things you mentioned are different from my experience, for example we could arrive up to 5 minutes late and it counted as on time.
How do you find your Chinese colleagues when they work? I don’t know if it is because of the type of company I was working in (manufacturing) or what, but the people in my office… how to say it… they often got on my nerves because they were unable of taking decisions and solving problems on their own.
haha that’s interesting Marta. Definitely, there are some colleagues that certainly also do get on my nerves… but oh well, that wouldn’t be different in a company anywhere else.
Well that is also true, it happened in the company I was working for in Spain 😀
Marta It might have to be with Manufacturing. After all a wrong decision can cost a lot of troubles (costs, out of budget, timing, quality…) is a lot of pressure.
When I was part of Siemens’ team I also had some colleagues who had a hard time taking decisions ut I would be as stressed about it as them, after all some of their projects have huge budgets and costs just change every day. Manufacturing is tough in everyones nerves! 🙂
This is so interesting!I can see some similarities in Japan (getting in trouble for being even just one second late… and the mass emails/introductions), but there are also tons of differences!
I rotate schools, so most of the time my Japanese coworkers don’t say anything if I bring my breakfast and eat it before class. I agree that it is more efficient and gives me more time to get ready in the morning. But I wish more of them did it as well. I also wish we had more of a napping culture, but some teachers pass out at their desks and once I did it and the head teacher was totally understanding.
yes, it does have its advantages, doesn’t it?