A Guide to Hong Kong’s Working Culture for Expats
Are you a career globetrotter with the eagerness, patience and the versatility to learn about the various parts of the world? Looking forward to working in Hong Kong? Understanding business and workplace culture along with proper etiquette is important when working as a professional in Hong Kong.
Hong Kong is a country with a unique business culture that demands a raised awareness about specific norms and values. Although many of the cultural features are the same as the West, still there are a few stark contrasts that many expats may find different in Asia. Relocation to any country has its own merits and demerits, and expats will find that Hong Kong is no different, although there are many benefits to working in Hong Kong.
Read this guide to find out some of the adjustments expats need to make in order to grow their careers Hong Kong.
Dress Code: Dress codes are essential to adhere to in any professional setting around the world, and Hong Kong is no different. Business people in Hong Kong dress fairly conservatively, usually in black suits, shirts, and ties. It is necessary to blend in as opposed to attempting to stand out; so darker and neutral colors should be preferred over anything too eye-catching.
Even during business dinners, you should stick to your formal attire. Remember that, in Hong Kong business culture, different colors have different meanings. Red is considered as a lucky color, whereas white is a traditional symbol of mourning. You need to pay close attention to these meanings when choosing a color scheme for the day. Wearing a red tie, a red blouse, or any other red formal piece of clothing might have a positive impact. Also, portraying yourself as a neat and professional in various settings and at all times sets a good impression in front of the Hong Kong natives.
Coming to accessories, a fancy watch or an elegant necklace also helps you dress to impress and build the neat and professional image that you are trying to put forward.
Meetings and Negotiations: If you want to organize a meeting with business contacts in Hong Kong, it is a good idea to make appointments in advance with them. Try to avoid scheduling meetings at the popular vacation times in Hong Kong such as Christmas, Easter, or around the Chinese New Year.
You must have heard, “The First Impression is the last impression.”
Hong Kong is no different. There is some important etiquette to obey while meeting your clients, colleagues, and business partners in Hong Kong. Make sure to recognize the senior figures in a group setting. During your first meeting, greet the most senior business partner first with a handshake and a slight bow and then work your way down the hierarchy. Just be sure to stick to the dressing norms and color schemes.
Hand over your business cards while shaking hands. Just like with your wardrobe, stick to a positive or neutral color scheme for business cards. One side of your business card should be printed in English, and the other in Chinese.
Equally considerable is calling people by their correct title and surname, rather than their first name. Some Hong Kong professionals may modify their name to be more Western-sounding; you should still double check the pronunciation before meeting them.
For meetings, it’s key to support everything you present with some facts and figures in Hong Kong culture. Although English is generally used in Hong Kong business culture, you should still try to be courteous to your Chinese business partners. Always speak slowly and clearly, and practice or try to learn Cantonese in Hong Kong if you can. If your Cantonese is not quite up to par with Hong Kong business culture, you may at least try a bit of small talk or a few polite phrases to show your effort.
In Hong Kong formality associates to professionalism and these rules highlight how detail-oriented the working culture in Hong Kong can be. If you treat your colleagues and business partners with the required courtesy during your meeting in Hong Kong, you have paved your path to success.
Cool, Calm, and Collected: Showing graciousness and regard amid business negotiations is another must in Hong Kong working culture. Remain well-mannered and polite as well as try to stay away from over the top hand motions or raising your voice. If inclined to refuse proposals made by clients or colleagues, avoid saying “no” bluntly. Rather, take a logical stance and propose amendments.
Western working cultures, including that of Hong Kong, can be extremely result-oriented. A more patient way to deal with achieving the final result is undertaken. All issues are discussed and investigated closely and, subsequently, achieving the result may take additional time than what expats have experienced somewhere else.
Essentially, resist the urge to press your associates or partners on decisions they are not prepared to make. They will tell you when things can continue. Diplomacy ought to support your entire way of dealing with the business arrangements in Hong Kong.
Work Long and Hard: In Hong Kong, people are very hard working, and there is no concept of a typical eight hour work day. Even though their contracts do not require them to work for so long, the local professionals here work for longer hours. The long and lengthy working hours will be one of the most challenging adjustments that any expat will have to make. There are huge workloads, and the staff usually toils into the evening hours.
To build an excellent working relationship with your colleagues, it is recommended to fit into this system and try avoiding heading for the door as soon as the clock strikes 5 pm. Adapt to the habit of finishing all the outstanding tasks rather than putting them for the next day. Avoid watching the clock countdown to the conclusion of the workday. All these are considered as professionalism in Hong Kong.
In Hong Kong, long working hours are considered as a sign of importance and recognition. Short and quiet days are few and far between.
Other Etiquette: To successfully adjust to Hong Kong’s working culture, there is a spectrum of good practices that you need to abide by, such as respecting smaller details and showing respect at all times.
If you are going out for a dinner meeting to hand over your business card, you need to abide by some important rules, such as leaving a small portion of food on your plate to indicate that you are finished eating is regarded as a polite gesture.
If you are unable to attend a dinner meeting, make sure to reschedule it. Declining invitations to dine with business partners and not rescheduling is contemplated as rude.
Hong Kong may look like a hyper-modern city on the outside, but its workplace rules and practices are steeped in traditions that expats may struggle to adjust with at first. You don't need to panic; just start developing the knowledge of the norms and customs in Hong Kong. Respect and learn the workplace habits. Investing your time and preparation will lead to a professional approach that will pay returns for both your career and company in Hong Kong.