The Chinese appreciate their jobs more than their Western counterparts, says Bob Gogel.
Sitting in my hotel room in Beijing recently, I reflected on how this country has changed in the last 30 years since I first came as a tourist and more recently as a business traveller. The one word that comes to mind is pace - reflected in China's phenomenal transformation in such a short period of time.
Back in 1983 Westerners could only stay at one hotel, shop at one store, exchange foreign currency onto special script and only visit certain sights. Today, other than the language on the street signs and the look of dismay on the face of the taxi driver at my rather poorly accented request to be taken to the office, Beijing looks like any other world metropolis. Yes, driving in Beijing makes London traffic look fluid, the shopping malls make Oxford Street seem deserted and the desire for status and wealth makes the Sloane Rangers seem downscale.
A sense of entitlement
But the main difference, in my opinion, is none of the above. It is the contrast between Chinese attitudes to work and appreciation of their job in contrast to their European counterparts. Given the social legislation across the EU, imposed by institutional bureaucrats who are disconnected from the real world of the enterprise, it is not surprising that most employees in Europe increasingly view the workplace and their job as an entitlement.
The traditional employer-employee relationship is no longer governed by a sense of mutual benefit: a competitive wage for a fair day’s work. Rather, the mantra in many organizations is “pay me a competitive wage and, in return, I may come to work and if I do, don’t put too many constraints on me about performance or else I will claim stress and go out on sick leave.”
Law firms versus corporate culture
Of course, most law firms hire highly educated individuals who have a long term innate drive to be partners. So they put in long hours, carry out the non-lawyering tasks that first and second year associates are often asked to do and hope that through sheer intellect, drive and exhaustion, they too will make it into the inner circle of partnership. While some managing partners would argue that even this traditional model has begun to show its age and may burst at its seams, it still is holding strong in most firms, at least for the moment.
In contrast, most corporate executives in Europe are dealing with the day-to-day challenges of managing an organization where entitlement culture is de rigeur and is a contributory cause for a lack of competitiveness. The luxury of having access or the means to a talent pool as law firms do, is a nirvana, unlikely to be achieved.
The Chinese culture—at least for the moment—values hard work and wage levels are increasing as workers at all levels expect to be rewarded for their efforts, in particular those sectors where skills are more readily transferable across borders.
Changing the entitlement culture
Changing the entitlement culture in Europe can probably only happen if there is a total structural meltdown and a de novo culture created. This is unlikely in most places, so we are looking at many years, if not decades, until Europe wakes up and transforms itself. In the interim, high unemployment and low rates of job growth have become the new normal.
There is a Chinese proverb, “Man who waits for roast duck to fly into mouth must wait very, very long time.” Sadly, we in Europe and the US have gotten too used to having it easy and now must wait a long time until things get better. But in the interim, let’s try to get a balance back into the European social model and make working a good thing again.