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Dear Workforce What's Unique About the Chinese Workforce

For the last 10 years, I have worked for a family-run manufacturing company in China. But recently I was hired by a U.S. manufacturing corporation to lead the human resources function at one of its facilities here. I have not worked for U.S. companies and have not yet been to the States. How should I prepare myself to determine the difference between the workforces of Asian and U.S. companies and adapt to those cultural changes?
September 7, 2011
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Dear Leader:

The main differences between American and China workforces revolve around authority and individualism. In China, people accept differences in authority, or inequality, more willingly, and therefore have more hierarchical tendencies. In a country such as the U.S., people tend to be more egalitarian.

Authority in China tends to feature: Authority in U.S. tends to feature:
Hierarchical tendencies Egalitarian tendencies
Top-down communication Side-by-side communication
One-way communication Two-way communication
Infrequent feedback Frequent feedback

Chinese employees will find it difficult to question the boss, offer up ideas, take initiative or disagree with people of authority in the company. However, in American companies, empowerment is expected. Therefore, management at American companies wants employees to speak their minds, speak up and speak out. Be ready to educate the rest of your management team about the difficulties of empowering a Chinese workforce. Help them set up an environment that encourages your Chinese employees to move beyond their comfort zone.

Individual vs. group orientation

The U.S. is more individualistic than any other country in the world, while Chinese culture promotes group orientation. For example:

Group orientation: China Individualism: U.S.
Relationships are emphasized Tasks are emphasized
Indirect communication Direct communication
High context High content
Conflict avoidance Conflict acceptance

Americans tend to focus on accomplishing the task at hand. This drive to get things done causes Americans to be more aggressive and direct, and this approach at times supersedes relationships.

What an American says (direct communication) often matters less to Chinese than how it is said (context-based or indirect communication). The Chinese will send and receive messages based as much on the indirect context of the message--which includes their relationship to the messenger--as on the actual, direct content of the message itself.

For Chinese, how you say things is critical. In the West, what you say is more important. Without a doubt, your single greatest challenge will be helping your American employer learn how to solicit and receive feedback from Asian workers. You also must prepare your colleagues for other cultural obstacles. For example, having to account for Asia concerns--such as saving face and preserving relationships--can be a major source of frustration for Western companies.

SOURCE: Lance Tanaka, Asia Executive Resource, Hong Kong, June 23, 2005.

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The information contained in this article is intended to provide useful information on the topic covered, but should not be construed as legal advice or a legal opinion. Also remember that state laws may differ from the federal law.

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