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Work Culture and Labour Market for Expats in Hong Kong

Submitted: August 2013

Work Culture

First of all, work culture can differ considerably between large multinational companies with a presence in Hong Kong and smaller local companies. While multinational companies will mostly adopt a Western-approach to business culture, the work culture in local companies might be closer to Chinese work culture. Nevertheless, there are certain characteristics which will generally apply to both.

Aa hard-working attitude is highly appreciated. While general business hours tend to be between 9am and 6pm, it is not uncommon to work well into the night. Traditionally, businesses are structured in a hierarchical manner and junior workers are not supposed to question instructions given by senior members. In all respects, it is important to adopt a friendly and polite manner.

Furthermore, in Hong Kong’s professional circles, punctuality is key! Make sure to arrive to business meetings on time or a few minutes early and stick to agreed deadlines. If you notice you might be running late, make an advance phone call to inform your business partners or colleagues and apologise. When arranging meetings, it is also a good idea to do so several weeks in advance and confirm the meeting a day or two before the scheduled date.

At meetings, it is customary to shake hands both at the beginning and at the end of the meeting. It is also common to exchange business cards, which are typically handed out and accepted with both hands, holding the card by the corners. If possible, make sure that your business cards are printed in English on one side and in Chinese on the other.

Another sign of courtesy is to bring gifts for your business partners. The gift does not have to be of significant value - it is the act of gift-giving that matters! However, note that the person might refuse the gift at first as it is considered rude to accept the gift on the first offer, therefore make sure to offer it again.

Note also that hierarchy tends to be strictly observed at meetings, therefore you should make sure to greet the most senior members first. You will also find that the seating arrangements usually follows a hierarchical pattern, with the most senior members sitting at the head of the table. The overall tone of the meetings tends to be diplomatic and even disagreements are communicated in a calm and polite manner. It is further common to engage in small talk prior to or after the meeting and the host will often invite the business partners for a business lunch or dinner. 

In general, the dress code is quite conservative, with dark business suits for both men and women being the norm. You should also keep in mind that different colours have specific meanings in Hong Kong. For example, white is considered to be a colour of mourning, contrary to European countries where it is usually black. At the same time, red is thought to be a lucky colour, therefore a red tie or scarf might be a good choice for an important business meeting. To read about business networking in Hong Kong see Business Groups, Associations and Networking in Hong Kong.


Labour Market

Hong Kong is one of the world’s most important financial and commercial centres, and has excellent employment opportunities in these sectors. Other sectors, such as teaching, especially English teaching, and media, are also important. The Hong Kong economy has generally continued to grow during the current worldwide recession, and the unemployment rate is approximately 3.5% which is one of the lowest in the world.

However, competition for jobs is fierce, as, being in such a successful environment, employers can often afford to pick and choose the very best candidates. Although it may seem like there are a lot of immigrants who have made it on their own in Hong Kong, in fact many of the expat workers are actually in Hong Kong on secondment from their organisation’s main branch elsewhere.

According to Hong Kong’s Census and Statistics Department, the size of Hong Kong’s total labour force stood at 3.8 million in July 2013, of which 51.71% were male workers and 48.28% were female. The unemployment rate remained remarkably low at 3.3% and the number of job vacancies continued to increase, which is good news for expat job seekers in Hong Kong!

If you do, however, find yourself unemployed in Hong Kong and you have been resident for over 12 months, you might be entitled to state benefits for unemployed. These are granted under the Support for Self-Reliance Scheme (SFS), yet note that they are not easily obtained. To read up on rules and regulations see the Website of the Social Welfare Department.

For information about finding employment and writing applications in Hong Kong see Finding a Job, CVs, Interviews and Etiquette. For more on immigration procedures and working conditions in Hong Kong, see Working for Expats.




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