HR Practices in Asia – How they’re different from the West

HR Practices in Asia and the West is different in some fundamental ways. Below are some key areas of
difference and examples which demonstrate them.

Structure of Organizations in Asia

  • Organizational hierarchy is strictly adhered to, and leadership style is primarily autocratic. While in the West, organizations are characterized by flatter structures and more democratic leadership.
  • In Asia, age, tenure and gender matter more than in the West. For example, older males with lengthy service to their organization tend to predominate in the higher ranks of Asia corporate leadership. Just keep in mind that some cultures will actually appreciate more structure than what you may want.
  • In Asia, collectivist cultures mean groups take precedence over individuals. But nuances on this theme exist throughout the region. What might work in Korea may not work in Singapore.

Basis for Motivating Employees

  • In the West, individual rewards, such as compensation packages and personal career development are emphasized. In parts of Asia, incentives are more group based and steady progression emphasized. For example, in the United States, the base to incentive ratio for sales staff can be 30:70, with Japan flipping the ratio of 70% base and 30% incentive pay.
  • Personal initiative often distinguishes individual workers in the West, which frequently results in competitive bonuses and opportunities to advance. In Asia, promotion is based on seniority and recognition of high performing teams rooted in tradition and harmony. Individual recognition is undesirable as it is seen to distinguish an individual from the group.
  • In Asia, a sense of purpose that goes beyond the employee is a focus for attracting and retaining talent. Some companies in India, for example, include family members in company functions and provide financial support to employees in times of need.
  • To retain talent, Western organizations focus on employee retention strategies, while HR practices in Asia utilize team building activities.

How Business People Communicate in Asia

  • Communication is primarily contextual and indirect due to a need to save face. In the West, however, direct verbal communication is often regarded as ideal. Nonverbal cues including facial expressions, punctuality and bowing etiquette.
  • In the West, email and other online communication is more frequently used than in Asia, where in-person communication is essential, and negative questions are frowned upon.
  • The smoking area or cafeteria is often a great place to hear the latest news about the business.
  • English language skills are especially weak, so written and verbal communication takes extra effort. Keep the writing simple, and don’t use negative contractions.
  • In Asia, more business gets done around a drink or a meal than in the boardroom, where meetings are often conducted to confirm what’s already known and agreed to in the background. Whereas in the West, meetings are often for discussion of ideas and options.

How Conflicts are Resolved in Asia

  • Conflict resolution seeks to maintain harmony by focusing on accommodation and compromise. Workers in Asia are part of a unified system where each have a role to play, and managers take responsibility for actions even when staff make mistakes.
  • Direct conflict is strictly avoided; however, silence does not mean acceptance. In Japan, for example, apologies are made event if not meant, as a means to avoid placing blame.
  • Junior workers in Asia, however, have a limited avenue to register concerns.
  • Companies in Asia make as few layoffs as possible during economic downturns to produce highly loyal employees in better economic times.
  • Western competitive work environments often result in withdrawing from or ignoring conflict. For example, individuals in the West are encouraged to explore and develop themselves, which can lead to a greater instance of conflict.

Keep in mind that the golden rule isn’t universal – not everyone wants to be treated the same way as you would want to be treated. If you’re a Western organization entering Asia, be sure you get plenty of advice on HR practices in Asia, and adjust your approach.