Thursday, May 31, 2007

China Employee Retention: The Social Dimension

This was a recent post by William Dodson, the writer of the "This Is China! Weblog". In it he discusses that the most difficult part of doing business in China is retaining employees who work for your company. he discusses the differences between the Western-style models and the Chinese-style models.

A recent survey by the American Chamber of Commerce in Shanghai showed that employee retention is the most pressing matter for American companies.

One of the most difficult parts of building a business in China as a foreigner is keeping talented people. Finding the people is not difficult: for one, there are a lot of Chinese people (in case you did not know); and then the Chinese in general prize education, so when one plays the numbers game one is bound to find a lot of able bodies that can perform the job more than adequately. At least, they perform to that level with practical training and a fair amount of mentoring.

One aspect of China employee retention Westerners find vexing and time consuming is the social function work serves for Chinese people. The texture of employee relations in Chinese companies is quite different from what we find in America and Northern Europe. In America co-workers are co-workers and there is a demarcation between work and outside-of-work.

American staff leave their co-workers in the office; they do not take their co-workers home with them. Work is work, and home is home. Northern Europeans are much the same, though there is more a tendency than in America for Northern Europeans to go out for a few rounds of beer with co-workers and perhaps for dinner afterward.

Chinese employees have a different expectation of what we in the West call work-life balance; in fact, they have little concept of work-life balance. In general, you do the work until it gets done, and you socialize with friends, family, co-workers and classmates whenever the opportunity arises – which is quite often. There is little use of the idea of work-life balance in China not because there is little balance – as your average American would pre-suppose – so much as there is little differentiation between work and life. Admittedly, the separation is an artificial one, created in England at the start of the industrial revolution and exported to America.

Frankly, the concept of “employee” is only about 120 years old, created because hired hands in England were coming to work drunk - if they came to work at all – and would pop down to the local public house for a few rounds whenever the fancy struck them, which was quite often, it seemed.

To view the entire article at its original location click on the title of this post.

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