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Work Culture and Labour Market for Expats in Thailand

Author: Jim Newham
Submitted: May 2017

Work Culture

There are some international aspects to the work culture in Thailand, though it has a distinctive local flavour too. To succeed in Thailand, it is a distinct advantage to be familiar with the local ways of doing things.

Greetings are formal, with people normally addressed with title then given name on introduction. Business cards are always exchanged on meeting someone. The standard procedure is to pass them to people with your right hand. In Thailand, the subordinate is introduced first.

It is important to observe social niceties at work, especially in the office. Thais are a little reserved. Whereas there is a fairly relaxed attitude to timekeeping, it is courteous to let people know if you are going to be late.   Business meetings in Thailand are also formal, but courteous and relaxed. Take the lead from your host as to how to greet people. They may shake your hand or they may perform a wai. Whatever they do, it is courteous to do likewise.

The atmosphere in the workplace is not as rigid as in other eastern Asian countries. There is a sense of fun and happiness underlying Thai life. The hierarchy is rigid, with a relatively strict chain of command. The bosses are the sole decision-makers and are quite authoritarian. It is important not to expect them to change just for you - they won’t. The more you can respect and observe Thai practices and culture, the more they will hold you in esteem. The opposite is true also, though this will be hard to detect as the Thais will keep smiling serenely!

Dress code is formal, and it is very important to make an effort. Note that it is not normally the done thing to wear black; it is better to wear dark grey or blue instead. Dinner jackets are semi-optional; they can be dispensed with when it is very hot or humid. Women should wear long-sleeve blouses and skirts below the knee. Ties are normal for more formal occasions. Working hours are from 8:00 to 5:00, or 9:00 to 6:00.

Face is an important consideration. You need to be very cautious when making negative comments about someone or criticising them directly. Remember also that even casual comments that are critical of the King or the ruling military regime may land you in very deep water.

Business dealings in Thailand are relationship-based. This means that is it normal to get to know your opposite numbers a little. Charging in and expecting a deal to be closed almost instantly will also be greeted with smiles, though they will be rather forced. In other words, such a tactic will not work. In Bangkok, you might sometimes have a meeting on a video phone or on your mobile. This is to circumvent the considerable problem with the traffic.

Thais are hard-working and expect you to be the same. Though they are not excellent timekeepers themselves, they may expect you to be. It is best to err on the side of caution in this regard, at least at first.

Senior workers tend to get promoted due to age or time with the company, which, of course, equates to experience more or less.Older workers ­– including most expats – will gain respect automatically, and promotions can often be based on no more than seniority, with younger employers passed over.

Labour Market

The political turbulence of the past few years has done some harm to the Thai economy. Foreign investment has dropped due to a lack of certainty about what the future holds. Nevertheless, some economic indicators suggest that the Thai economy has a solid base.

For the last quarter of 2016, the GDP growth rate was 3.0% per annum, and the unemployment rate is, at 1.2%, one of the lowest in the world. Hence there are plenty of jobs available – note, however, that not all of them are available to expats. This is because there are some professions from which expats are wholly excluded, including carpenter and mechanic. In addition, finding a well-paid job can be difficult. However, the cost of living is so low that this will not normally have much impact.

English teaching positions are always available, especially in Bangkok, where private tutoring can be an attractive sideline. Also there is translating and working for international companies. There are also positions in IT and industries such as car manufacture, alternative energy, telecommunications or electronics. Tourism is a big employer, especially in the sun-kissed south. Related industries can also provide opportunities, such as estate agency, scuba diving instruction, bar work and working as a film extra. Online work is also a possibility, but note that unregisted online work is illegal in Thailand, and, thanks to the over-zealous junta currently in charge, may lead to prosecution.




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