Good China Workforce Practice During The Beijing Olympics

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By Chris Devonshire-Ellis

During the build up to the Olympics – now little more than 12 weeks away – much has been discussed – except good business and morale practice in the treatment of Chinese employees across China while the Olympics take place.

The national pride the Chinese feel in hosting such an event is unprecedented, and as we have seen in the recent national mourning that has taken place due to the Sichuan earthquakes, is unlikely now to disperse. China now needs a successful games, not just for international relations and prestige, but also to recover it’s sense of positive national unity and ability.

Accordingly, the games therefore also offer potential flash points for conflict in the workplace, in addition to opportunities for developing corporate team building and inter-company morale. This can be especially true of international organizations with a strong mix of Western and Chinese management and workers.

We would recommend the following simple steps and facilities to be put in place to maximize the benefits to your workforce the Olympics can bring, and to minimize the risk of absenteeism and a disgruntled workforce.

TV coverage
The Games’ events are of course largely being held in local Chinese time, which is essentially consistent across the country (local regional variations occur for practical purposes in Xinjiang, although the clocks remain on Beijing time). It may be stating the obvious, but it means that most events will occur during working hours. Accordingly, there is risk here that large sections of the workforce may call in sick or just absent themselves without warning for key events or those in which an employee holds a particular interest.

To cater for this, we suggest setting up wide-screen TVs or TVs with live coverage in appropriate areas (although not in those handling sensitive applications or on the shop floor). A separate room, maybe a conference room in offices, dining halls or a communal room would be ideal. Staff can apply in advance if they wish to watch specific events, while for those events the Chinese national team are doing well in it affords the ability for all staff to get together under the company premises and cheer on their local heroes. It is the Chinese Olympics – it would be churlish to deny your Chinese staff the ability to watch them.

A log can be taken to ensure this facility is not abused – in our experience, Chinese staff will not abuse such systems when they are in place. For the finals of events that feature China, the entire workforce may want to watch – but far better they do this under the watchful eye of your management and the benevolence of your company than de-motivate them by denying the opportunity.

Company banners and promotional items
Staff would appreciate the gesture of having uniform sets of t-shirts, polo shirts or caps to wear – emblazoned with both your company logo and that of the Olympic Rings (but not the official Beijing Olympics logo, that is copyright protected) and the slogan “Beijing / China Olympics 2008.” It is a nice touch to present such gifts to your staff and with your own logo added will add to a sense of corporate camaraderie during the games. Likewise for other Olympics promotional material such as posters and flags, and maybe posters of some of the participating Chinese stars. There’s nothing wrong with decorating your workplace in Olympics memorabilia during the event and no rule book that says you can’t. It all adds up to a good workforce environment for your staff and shows your company is also participating.

Latest results
A latest results table can be posted on your staff canteen or dining area each morning, with a schedule of the forthcoming days events to keep your staff abreast of the latest news and up to date with whose winning and losing. Otherwise, they’ll just spend their time searching for it online during your work time.

Curbing excessive foreign and local patriotism
I recall watching the Olympics live in a bar several years ago in Shenzhen. A group of American expatriates began chanting “USA! USA!” when their team appeared. While friendly banter is part and parcel of the games, excessive use of patriotic chanting can have negative effects. On that occasion, the USA chants were met with a loud chorus of booing for the American team when they appeared on TV. This would not have happened if the “USA!” chants had not appeared so aggressive. The Chinese generally are quite reserved and not given usually to overly aggressive bursts of chanting or booing. An over the top foreign aggressiveness demonstrating excessive patriotism could backfire. Expatriate employees are guests in China, it would be wise to tone down nationalistic sentiments to avoid offending Chinese staff. Under these circumstances, common sense should prevail.

Expatriate staff wearing Chinese flags
During the Japan/Korea World Cup Finals, I sat in a bar in Shanghai and painted the Chinese flag on both my cheeks (I’m Scottish) and sat down to watch the games China were playing in. The local Chinese were amazed at such patriotism towards their own country – and I was asked many times why I wore the Chinese flag. “I live here too,” was the simple reply. “And I am happy to be in China.” I made a lot of Chinese friends during that tournament (even though the Chinese team fared dreadfully). It’s good for expatriate staff to join in the festivities of China events – you’ll be made to feel even more welcome and even more a part of the China Olympics experience.

These are just suggestions based on other sporting events I have seen or taken part in over the years in China. It’s up to employees to work out a policy for the appropriate managerial behavior towards Chinese staff during the Olympics and up to you how you want to participate. We hope these suggestions are of use and welcome others.

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