The weird world of the Western Workplace

Much has been said about Westerners adjusting to China's work culture. But what of the opposite? Lennox Morrison finds out what culture shock is like for China's workers abroad.

When Shanshan Zhu moved from Kunming, China to the Netherlands five years ago, she was looking to experience Western culture.

While she expected working life in Europe to be different to that of her homeland, one thing especially stood out - back home, office workers took one to two hours off at midday to go to a restaurant together, or slip home for a snooze.

In her new home, it was normal to spend just 30 minutes to grab a sandwich.

Zhu, who works as a call agent and translator at a global data company, quickly adjusted to a shorter lunch break and has settled in happily.

But, she says, "I do have friends at home who cannot survive without a nap. I don't think they could survive with the work culture here."

While English-language media warns about culture shocks awaiting Westerners in China, there's very little from the opposite perspective.

But for the growing number of Chinese heading west to work and study, there's plenty they find startling.

And as more Chinese firms move abroad, bringing key executives with them, it may be Westerners who need to make a greater effort to be mindful.

In the US alone, more than four times the number of visas for Chinese expat employees and their families were granted in 2015 compared to 2005.

"Chinese firms are looking abroad and making acquisitions at a terrific pace," says Eric Thun, Peter Moores associate professor in Chinese business studies at Oxford University's Saïd Business School.

"That's why it's useful to understand Chinese working culture and organisational practices."

Change of pace

Upon arrival in the West, many Chinese find they have to firstly put on the brakes.

Yifeng Li, raised in northern China and now based in Birmingham, England, agrees.

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