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Human resources in ASEAN nations Human resources in ASEAN nations
by Joseph Gatt
2019-10-27 10:38:40
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Sweeping generalizations on human resources in ASEAN nations, in no particular order.

-First thing that comes to mind, ASEAN nations are somewhat different when it comes to human resources. So I'll try to compare different nations.

-Cambodia, Laos and Myanmar, people at work tend to have a bit of a temper and anger management issues. They can make mountains of mole hills. Singapore and the Philippines, people can be a bit slow, but almost always smiling and helpful. Malaysians can get cranky and working is a little tense, but they also love to tell jokes and can have a twisted sense of humor. Indonesians and the Vietnamese tend to be calm but slow. Brunei the work atmosphere tends to be very friendly, but a little slow. Thailand workers tend to be friendly but cautious. 

asea001_400-Job applications. In most ASEAN nations, you will receive a resume along with copies of the diplomas and university grade transcripts in attachment. Most will have something like a 3 page list of grade after grade after grade after grade in their transcripts. Resumes tend to emphasize university education, which is highly respected in ASEAN nations. Many in ASEAN nations will name a list of people they are thankful for in their cover letter, and a list of people they worked with.

-In ASEAN nations, in most cases, always start job interviews with a handshake and a little bit of small talk. Many won't really understand what's expected from them on the job, and you will have to train most of them on the job for many, many months. Some have never really used MS Office, except perhaps for Singapore. Many don't really understand what a job involves, and many imagine that “work” kind of looks like “school,” that is you show up, and you pass out while someone's lecturing, then you go home.

-Many believe in “working for their country” and “helping their parents.” If you are a foreign boss, challenging them is like a “challenge to the nation.” Filipinos tend to swallow their pride when being confronted, but in other ASEAN nations, if you yell, they tend to yell back. So in all cases, you want to give them a clear job description, clear instructions for tasks, and you want to leave them alone and let them get the job done.

-Expect a lot of interruptions when you're talking, including when you're giving instructions. To give you a concrete example, I was once helping a Cambodian friend get her visa application ready for Italy. The form was in Italian, and a little complicated, and I can somewhat read Italian. So I figured out the best way was for me to translate and have her fill out the application in English. Problem is, as I was translating, she kept interrupting me with useless questions, and it got to the point where I blew up. That's when she smiled, and let me talk, but still interrupted me a couple of times. Problem is, in most ASEAN nations, that how it works when you talk about almost anything.

-Many companies in ASEAN nations like to get together for dinner, in some cases almost every day. People often eat lunch together. They tend to talk about... food over lunch and dinner.

-The new trend in Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore and Brunei is the “American accent.” The younger generation watched a ton of American programs and some picked up the accent. Just because their accent is American, doesn't mean they “think” like Americans. Many things are left unsaid in ASEAN nations, and you have to be careful what you discuss. Avoid embarrassing them about anything, and don't point out mistakes, even when the guys have an American accent.

-In ASEAN nations, many workers say “yes” and “I'll do it” to everything and then get nothing done, often because it's impossible to get the task done. So if you tell your driver to go to the tax office and then go to the airport, and that there's no way for him to do that, he'll either ditch the tax office, or the airport, and will try to cover up for his mistake. I know he really should have said “it's impossible” but that how things work in ASEAN nations.

-Finally, in any ASEAN nation, singer and actors are gods. Everyone knows their names and what songs they sing or what movies or soap operas they played in. During lunch or dinner or water cooler conversations, they are either going to discuss food, or celebrities. So the best way to get them to work and to get information is to make lots of small talk about food and celebrities, before gradually shifting the conversation to business.

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