Working with Filipino staff – The challenges and pitfalls

So you have embarked on the offshoring/outsourcing path and have engaged staff to work for you in the Philippines. It is now important to consider the likely difficulties that you may encounter when collaborating with your Filipino staff and how you will manage them.

The biggest issues you are likely to face with your Filipino staff are cultural ones. What is normal and usual for us in Australia is not always necessarily normal and usual for people from other countries and this certainly applies in the Philippines. One of the biggest cultural differences between Australians and the Filipinos is the Asian concept of “saving face.”

Australians, generally, are a fairly direct lot; we like to give feedback immediately and not to beat about the bush when providing it. This can create a dynamic which can lead to embarrassment of your Filipino staff members. Filipinos, as with most other Asian nations, embrace the concept of “face” and reputation. This means it is very important not to directly embarrass a Filipino staff member and it is particularly important not to embarrass them in front of their work colleagues. The concept of saving face can also lead to unusual outcomes, such as the staff indicating that they can do jobs which are in fact beyond their ability. This occurs as they don’t want to be embarrassed by admitting they do not know how to do a particular job.

So how do you deal with this issue?

The first thing you should be aware of is that any message you deliver only needs to be subtle to be effective. If you are dealing with issues relating to performance, ensure that those issues are dealt with confidentially. Here, the use of video conferencing is also essentially important. If you are attempting to deal with performance management issues via email or over the telephone, the entire context and tone can be lost and you can quickly find yourself offending your staff without any conscious intention. Video conferencing allows you to monitor and visually assess the reaction of your staff as you are delivering your message and adjust the tone or strength of the message accordingly. Likewise, video conferencing can assist greatly when you have provided instructions and wish to confirm that the staff member understands what you are asking them to do and that they also have the skills to do it. Whereas if you try to issue instructions over a telephone call, you may hear “yes, I can do that,” while over a video conference call you might see body language indicating that they require further assistance or guidance to complete the task assigned to them.

Another example of a notable cultural difference relates to punctuality. Punctuality in the Philippine business environment is an unusual concept. Traffic in Manila can be horrendously bad and can often lead to people being late for meetings without any fault on their part. As a result, a culture has developed where it’s very acceptable to be 15 to 30 minutes late for any given appointment. This is often used as justification for lateness generally and has developed to the point where being late for meetings and even work is quite acceptable.

Rather than fighting this, sometimes it is better to go with the flow. Schedule meeting times earlier than you actually require (when people are traveling to be at the meeting) to ensure that they proceed on time. Where this issue relates to staff punctuality for work, allow staff members a grace period at the start of work and if they arrive late, allow them to make up that time at the end of the day (which they are usually very happy to do).

These are some of the larger examples of the cultural differences you may face with your offshore or outsourced Filipino workforce, although there are also many smaller ones. There are no shortcuts when it relates to understanding culture. You need to invest the time to learn as much as possible about the environment in which your staff works in and their cultural norms. Likewise, it is important that your offshoring service provider assists with training your staff upon the nuances of the Australian culture. This includes educating the offshore staff and their employers so there can often be compromises which will assist in a smooth ongoing working relationship.

Share this post on