The Filipino Workplace: Communication, Culture, and Challenges
The Philippines is one of the most diverse countries in Southeast Asia. Filipinos are known for many things – entertainment, tourism, and cuisine, and without ignoring the fact that they are one of the world’s most hardworking, hospitable workers.
Different countries cultivate different cultures, so what seems acceptable in the UK, US or Australia could be misunderstood or taken wrongly in an Asian office. In this article, we will highlight what you need to know about managing Filipino teams, what corporate life is about for them, their character towards work, taking responsibilities, and how you can use this to overall organizational success. Managing a team in the Philippines is a different style of management to a western team, so understanding the communication and culture is a huge part of team management.
Here’s what you need to know:
Way of Communicating (verbal and nonverbal)
As the Philippines is a group of islands, there is a variety amongst Filipinos, though the tone of voice which varies widely by dialect and region.
Style: Filipinos express their ideas in a diplomatic, gentle manner. They fear being tagged as arrogant while airing out their point of view over issues circulating in the office, so expect them to be cautious and courteous. For Filipinos, there’s no better way to win the argument than humility.
Adaptable: One of the reasons why foreigners hire Filipinos abroad is because of their flexibility. They are adaptable and open to learning new things, including your language. English is their second language, and it is widely spoken in the country. Many Filipinos especially those employed outside of the Philippines familiarize themselves with the new language, even mimic how you say it, to be able to communicate and build a strong relationship with their employers. They will go over and beyond to understand your language and apply it when speaking to you.
Indirect Communication: They master the art of indirect ways of communicating. They are keen observers when conversing with others – very much attentive to posture, expression, and the tone of delivery. They tend to avoid interrupting others and would rather be the last ones to speak.
Issues with saying ‘No’: They are known to be very hospitable and accommodating. Even if it’s a bit uncomfortable for them, they will still give you a satisfying answer just to avoid unfortiable and embarrassing situations. Typically Filiinos are overly polite and relationship-oriented people, making it hard to read them. Try to listen to what they say but be more attentive to stuff they refuse to say.
respect for hierarchy is a must: Filipinos honour those professionals they encounter in any business setting through addressing them in their occupational titles – Lawyers (“Attorney”), Doctors (“Doc”), Engineers (“Engineer”), and several other skilled professionals. In the workplace, don’t get surprised if they don’t address you by your first name. Unless you made it clear to them, they would resort to calling you “ma’am,” “sir,” “miss,” or “mister” as a form of respect to senior colleagues. Another form of showing utmost courtesy is saying “po” and “opo,” an innate polite form of speech when engaging with an elder or someone of higher status.
The points we raised could give you a glimpse of how Filipino teams engage verbally. These could also help you have a better judgment of how they build relationships with other team members. You may find some of these odd, but it doesn’t mean the same goes for others. These are some common traits that you will notice once you start establishing a good working relationship when you start working with Filipino teams.
How to effectively communicate with them?
Encouragement plays a vital role in igniting the spirit of camaraderie for Filipino teams. One thing that holds them back from speaking out is the fear of retaliation. For others, once they start to question or challenge authority, even if they are right, it can cost them their job. So, they opt to keep it to themselves and move forward while carrying that load on their shoulders.
For western countries, you exercise the freedom to say whatever that needs to be said. If you are managing Filipino teams, understand that they are extra sensitive workers. It might take a lot of getting used to encouraging them to speak in front of other team members, as they would prefer to have a private, one-on-one conversation to share what they think about issues confidently.
Assertiveness is not a common trait among Filipinos. They are generally conscious of their actions and behave themselves because they want to avoid unnecessary confrontations or getting involved in offending anyone. The focus is on ‘Pakikisama’ (togetherness) instead of fighting amongst each other. Pakikisama’ is widely practised in the Filipino workplace..
Lip Pointing: Nope! This gesture doesn’t mean that they want to kiss you. Instead of using their fingers to point something, Filipinos will use lips gestures as a form of pointing, instead of the traditional hand and finger pointing you might see elsewhere. Many foreigners find this unusual and confusing at first, as it is uncommon elsewhere in the world and unique to Filipinos. For example, if you ask someone where an item is or someone is, rather than someone verbally directing them they might point with the lips as a form of answering.
Nodding and raising eyebrows with a smile: Other than lip pointing, expect another unique gesture when working with Filipinos. Nodding and raising eyebrows with a smile is one way they greet each other quickly and casually. This act is often followed by a simple, friendly tap on the shoulder or a handshake if they are within reach.
Stress relievers: Filipinos are sociable with their teams and enjoy long conversations even at work. They tend use a chitchat as a stress reliever. Although you may associate laughter with having a good time, Filipinos master using laughter as a way to relieve tension, an attempt to cover something embarrassing, and their coping mechanism in awkward situations.
There are more to these expressions than you think. Once you start working with Filipinos, you will be surprised that they can communicate with simple eye contact. They can even make a plan by just a mere nod. Take note that these expressions are never constant. As it is greatly affected by the events or the kind of environment one belongs in. You must know that meaning changes from time to time.
“Pag bago dito, magspespecial number sa December” (If you are a newcomer in this company, you will render a special number in December), this is a typical welcome to the team greeting of every Filipino to their new colleague. Of course, it is a joke addressed to employees who will join the team to give the person an easier time to adjust.
Aside from being asked for a ‘libre’ (treat), newcomers face different initiation, for fun only, for them to feel that they actually belong and ease one’s feeling upon entering the organization.
The Philippine work environment has this unique way of doing business as it is deeply rooted from the different Filipino values. Regardless of what industry you serve or come from, there’s a common Filipino workplace etiquette that transcends through all industries.
Overtime is normal in Filipino work culture. A lot of workers nowadays don’t mind working beyond office hours because they see this as an opportunity to increase their work’s value, learn more about their field, and ensure that they will not get stuck with the same tasks for the entire shift the next day. They are not only hardworking, but today, Filipino’s creativity and resourcefulness continue to shine through, which helps employees work harder and give better outputs.
Collaborating when a team member is struggling is not a foreign thing to Filipino’s working culture, because if there’s anything they love, it is definitely helping a struggling co-worker or they simply call it in their language as ‘Bayanihan’. Despite having a lot on their plate, you will often see them extend a helping hand to their colleagues, to assist them move on from one task or accomplish a project.
In terms of work culture, Filipinos are known to be very generous. When an employee takes on a vacation for a week, expect that when they come back, they will hand out small trinkets, souvenirs, or pasalubong from their trip to their colleagues.
Generosity for Filipinos is not limited only on sharing food to their colleagues, but it is also often shown in how they would plan out surprise to their colleagues when it’s their birthday, when they get a promotion, or when they do a great job on a recent project.
The concept of “potluck” is also very evident in Filipino workplaces as they love handing out and offering their lunch meals or snacks to everyone – a concept that encourages each employee to share something from their homes to contribute to the small feast; if there’s one language that Filipinos know the most, its their undying love for gatherings and food.
Family comes first
Family will always come first for Filipinos When you ask them about career plans, even during job interviews, one common answer you will hear is that they do everything to provide for the family.
We have shared how Filipinos value sociable relationships in their lives and a big chunk of this came from their love for family. One thing that affects Filipinos professionally is being part of a work family, if they feel their working environment is closed to others or unwelcoming, it will most likely take a toll on their mental health and wellbeing.
Colleagues are considered as Family
Because of the long hours spent in the workplace, strong bonds amongst colleagues are key to a happy workplace for Filipinos. Some may even address another colleague as “Nanay” or “Tatay.” Don’t be surprised if you hear one of them calls someone “kuya” or “ate,” or “older brother” and “older sister.”
Filipinos love hosting gatherings, as well as eating lunch together, and they will make extra effort to make everyone feel part of the celebration as much as possible. Got a promotion? Be ready to treat the entire office!
Saving Face is big deal
Modesty and pride are important characteristics in Asian work cultures. Filipinos value their reputation and ability to maintain harmony with anyone they are working with. As mentioned earlier, Filipinos are not keen on confrontation as they are ‘mahiyain’ (a Filipino value that gives importance on what other people might think about them) and to avoid losing face or being put in a bad light in public, they will choose to keep quiet about stuff.
Open to diversity and friendly collaboration
Filipinos are friendly. They will ensure that you will not feel left out or stay in one corner alone. They simply love the idea of making new friends or acquaintances that it excites them to have new breed of talents to join the team.
Filipinos work well with others cultures and nationalities, they will jump at any chance to befriend others and get to learn more about them.
If you treat them properly, you will earn not only their respect, but their loyalty. They will stick with you and continue to serve with dignity and integrity.
Challenges surrounding the Filipino Teams
The Philippines has long been established as an essential player in the outsourcing industry because of the Filipino’s culture and character when it comes to working. However, as with all things, there are drawbacks to outsourcing to the Philippines.
This part of the article balances the information that you are supposed to know; and for you to weigh these crucial areas if you want to push through building a Filipino outsourcing team now.
The Philippines is a predominantly Christian country. Many culturally significant holidays must be observed and officially declared by the government. Unlike the United States, with only 11 official holidays, the Philippines, on the other hand, has 18 non-working and religious holidays.
Though you may ask the team to report on duty, the Philippine labour laws mandate that they get paid more when they show up for work on legal holidays. One of the challenges that western companies face currently when their team is largely dominated by Filipinos, is the major shift in the workforce because of these scenarios. Now that the pandemic altered the traditional working setup, holiday observances could add more to the weight that employers are carrying.
Issues about new responsibilities
Though they are open to new and exciting opportunities, Filipinos are a very cautious type of employee. They want challenges that they know they will win. If you move them to another department for upskilling, some may see it as they are not good enough. And they would feel as if they are not functioning well on where they are currently assigned or the task you entrust to them.
Though this may not hold to other Filipino workers who believe in learning continuously, some talents struggle with changing organizational roles and responsibilities. They have this mentality of sticking to one job until they get promoted to a new position.
This article highlights the culture, characteristics, and unique ways Filipinos operate in a workplace. They are one of the most sought-after employees in the international scene because of their hard work ethic and ability to work well as a team. When it comes to friendship, loyalty, and collaboration, Filipinos have unshakable values and unmatched principles which makes them trusted team members.
They are highly competitive and willing to take risks, especially when given due credit for the good things they contributed to the team. We may not include all other traits and characteristics that Filipinos outsourced teams are known for, but definitely know. Filipinos are hardworking, team members who you can rely on which is something that you might consider in your outsourcing strategy.