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Work Culture and Labour Market for Expats in India

Submitted: October 2013

Work Culture

Work culture is likely to differ depending on whether you work for a large international company or for a local company. International companies mostly adopt a Western-style business culture.Even if you are working for a multinational, you may find that the working culture in your company is Indian in orientation. Most Indian companies tend to be more traditional, with hierarchical structures and clear-cut role divisions. The boss is a very important figure and commands the attention of subordinates whatever they are doing. Ignorance of niceties such as this will not help your promotion prospects. To help you to learn about such cultural differences, your company may send you on a cultural awareness course. Meanwhile, certain Indian companies, in particular in the telecommunications and finance sectors, have started adopting a more modern approach.

Whichever company you work for, a hard-working attitude is highly appreciated! According to Indian labour law, workers should not work longer than 9 hours a day or 48 hours per week. Despite these regulations, many locals work longer hours than this. Hence showing commitment to your role is important.

It is crucial to develop good personal relationships with colleagues and business partners, as Indians tend to base their professional decisions on trust. The communication style among colleagues of the same rank is usually relaxed and informal, while a formal tone is used with senior managers. English tends to be the preferred language to do business in. However, in Indian companies, workers often switch to Hindi or other local languages.

Remember also that punctuality matters! Even though meetings in India might not always start on time, it will leave a bad impression if you arrive late. If you notice you might be running late, make an advance phone call to inform your business partners or colleagues. It is also a good idea to arrange meetings several weeks in advance and confirm the meeting a day or two before the scheduled date.

At business meetings, it is customary to greet the most senior persons first. Handshakes are generally only common among men – although this will clearly be different in international contexts. Light bows are also a sign of courtesy.

Business cards are either exchanged at the beginning or at the end of the meeting and are generally presented with the right hand. If presenting a gift, avoid wrapping it in black or white colour, as these are considered to be unlucky. Instead, choose lucky colours such as red, green or yellow!

It is common to engage in small talk before and after business meetings. The overall tone of business meetings, however, tends to be diplomatic and indirect. Even disagreements are communicated in a calm and polite manner. Saying “no” outright is often avoided. Instead you will hear “this might be difficult”, “I will think about it” or “we will see”. Finally, be prepared for interruptions during meetings, as for example accepting phone calls while they are going on is common practice. To read about business networking in India see Business Groups, Associations and Networking.


Labour Market

The Indian economy continued to grow during the worldwide recession and is now the world’s 10th largest. The GDP growth level for the first quarter of 2015 was 5.3%. Unemployment in India is considerably lower than the world average at around 5%. However, unemployment rates vary widely across the country, and especially between the sexes. In 2012, only 22.6% of Indian women were in employment, compared to 77.6% of Indian men. Overall, India is likely to face a shortage of jobs in the future, as its economy and population grow, yet not enough jobs are created to match this growth.

Currently, due to the rapidity of expansion, there is a labour shortage with respect to positions suitable to expats. As a result of this, job applications from expats – mostly from Europe and North America – have recently increased by 20%. Furthermore, India is becoming increasingly open to foreign workers and foreign influences. Western companies from IKEA to Pizza Express are opening franchises in the country. There were around 40,000 expats working in India in 2011 and the number is increasing by around 15-20% per year. Though it is true that most of these people are employed by multinationals, local companies are taking on expats in increasing numbers. The cities with the most jobs available are Delhi, Mumbai (Bombay) and Bangalore.

Capitalising on its educated English-speaking population, India has become a major world centre for IT and business outsourcing. Telecommunications, banking and other financial services and pharmaceutical research are other sectors in which opportunities lie for expats. In all these positions, skilled use of the English language is valued; this is even more the case in the areas of training and technical writing. Management and senior management roles are generally available in the above sectors. Managerial positions can also be found in manufacturing and, increasingly, in retail.

For more information on immigration procedures and working conditions in India, see Working for Expats.




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