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Leaders of the Personnel Management Association of Thailand (PMAT), including its executive committee and senior staff manager, other HR practitioners, consultants and academics, concur that culture is vitally important. This is true not only for expatriate HR managers working in the country, but also for Thais to maintain team harmony and achieve effectiveness in organizations.
Geert Hofstede, in his groundbreaking inventory of cultural dimensions in 70 countries, described Thailand as a culture relatively high in power distance—meaning that people anticipate and honor the rules of behavior in their interactions (for example, using formal titles is normal).
Generally, Thais are high in uncertainty avoidance, high in long-term orientation, and low in masculinity (distribution of roles between genders) and individualism.
Within this framework, Dr. Jamnean Joungtrakul, president and CEO of the BLCI Group and chair of HRD programs at Burapha University in Thailand and a member of the PMAT’s executive committee, says bunkhun (the concept of reciprocal indebtedness and gratitude or the repaying of favor with favor), kreng jai (consideration to not cause discomfort to others), sabai sabai (easygoingness) and the closely linked concepts of saving face and criticism avoidance are always important.
Furthermore, Thai Buddhist concepts of helpful integration, what constitutes success, qualities of a genuine person and principles of collective responsibility inform attitudes and actions throughout the workforce.
Keeping all of that in mind, here are some do’s and don’ts when engaging employees to work in Thailand:
Do avoid age and sex discrimination in job advertisements.
Do conduct background and reference checks with permission of the candidates.
Do learn “Thainess” and try to get along; show that you respect the local culture and environment and try to adapt to local customs.
Do hire from within; such policies are legal and legitimate.
Do attend events important to your employees, such as weddings and funerals, to demonstrate solidarity and respect.
Do emphasize your employment branding as part of your recruitment strategy.
Do hire all types of labor force members (skilled, semi-skilled and unskilled).
Do offer training as appropriate at all levels of operations.
Do cater to modern technology to attract Millennials.
Do review compensation packages regularly.
Do comply with ethical standards of being a good corporate citizen.
Do understand the culture. Non-Thais are seen as authority figures and should not be too informal. Thais are watching to be sure that behaviors are consistent with trust-building and ascribed status.
Do use the right tone of voice. Be “soft of voice” and humble.
Do manage your differences in private.
Do communicate, communicate and communicate.
Do connect to other departments frequently and genuinely.
Do know where power is located and leverage it in culturally appropriate ways.
Do talk to the right stakeholders.
Do concentrate your efforts to win the heart of the CEO; do the right and timely thing that the CEO cares about (something small, solid and a success important to him or her is more important than what seems important or timely to you).
Do understand local compliance issues. In particular, know that under the new “Thailand Labor Protection Act” the treatment of outsourced vs. in-house staff is under scrutiny and that fair and nondiscriminating benefits and welfare apply to indirect contractors as well as direct employees.
Don’t use headhunters just because of their size. Check with your local HR department to find the name of a reputable local recruiter, regardless of size of his or her firm.
Don’t make anyone lose “face” or dignity. If you disgrace them, they will leave you easily and can damage your employer brand if they feel that the pressure or their treatment was too harsh.
Don’t inflate the price for hiring individuals in order to avoid overpaying in the local employment market.
Don’t cut training costs during hard times; train more, wisely, with limited budgets.
Don’t lay off employees before considering all alternatives.
Don’t disagree with a superior in front of others.
Don’t use authority to lead. Rather, use relationships to motivate people.
Don’t order. Ask.
Howard A. Wallack, M.A., MSc, GPHR is director, Global Member Programs, at SHRM.
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