Office Culture

China HR: Do You Look Fat Today?

Posted by Dan Harris on February 13, 2007 at 03:10 PM

I am surprised at how often clients want to discuss their China Human Resource (HR) issues with me. They seem to be puzzled by a lot of things involved in managing an office in China and they always seem so disappointed when I tell them I have very little knowledge or experience in that arena. I try to analogize it with my trying to manage the lawyers we work with over there, but that is not the same. I do not recall ever being asked such questions regarding any other country and I cannot help but viewing their seeking my help as desperation.

A short article by Geoffrey Fowler in today's Wall Street Journal "Cubicle Culture" series, entitled, In China's Offices, Foreign Colleagues Might Get an Earful," [subscription may be required] touches on some of the more touchy HR issues Westerners face in China and concludes with some particularly good advice on what to do when someone there tells you that you look fat.

The article starts out discussing how "Chinese people draw the lines between personal and work space differently from Americans." In China, companies are still viewed by many as "surrogate family." At the same time, hierarchy is still king and Chinese employees are "baffled by 'brown-bag lunch' conferences, during which junior staffers rudely chomp while somebody senior is giving a talk. It's rude because it mixes a social event with an official one." According to a Chinese national who works at an American law firm in Beijing, "Chinese law firms would not have this kind of lunch. . . . Maybe we would go outside to a really good restaurant to drink and chat for a while. But in the U.S., people pay much more attention to efficiency."

If you have an office in China, check out this article as I am sure you will recognize much of what you read.

"So, how should a foreigner respond when he's told he's fat?" Mr. Fowler's stock response is, "There's so much good food here."

Good one.

We would love to hear about your China HR stories.

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