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A Guide To Office Culture In Malaysia

Moving to a different country is a major decision and it can take a while to get accustomed to an unfamiliar culture, language and cuisine. Malaysia is a modern and multicultural country with a local population that is warm and welcoming towards foreigners. Therefore expats are not likely to experience a large degree of culture shock. But every country has its unique way of life and this may take some getting used to.

Malaysian culture
The population of Malaysia consists of different ethnic communities and immigrants from different parts of the globe. Along with the Malay, Chinese and Indian communities, which are among the largest in the country, there are also a number of other indigenous groupings. As such Malaysia is an interesting blend of cultures, each with its own customs and traditions.Doing business in Malaysia
Expats will not have to go through the trouble of learning the official language, which is Bahasa Malaysia, since English is considered to be the language of business. In addition to Bahasa Malaysia and English, some of the other languages commonly spoken are Mandarin, Cantonese and Tamil. Expats who intend to conduct business in Malaysia will find it useful to learn a bit about the cultural complexities of this diverse place. Expats may have to encounter people from different cultural backgrounds and therefore may also have to adjust their conduct and expectations accordingly. The good news for businesspeople is that Malaysia has ranked among the top ten in different international business surveys, proving that it is easy to do business there. It occupied the sixth rank in the World Bank’s ease of doing business survey in 2014, especially in the areas of protecting investors and getting credit.

Office culture in Malaysia
In the Malaysian workspace, the qualities of education, experience and leadership are highly preferred at the managerial level. This is also expected of expats and employees are likely to have a higher regard for them if they possess these qualities. However, expats may need to put in some effort to communicate with the staff in order to know how exactly they perceive them as bosses. This is because they tend not to express their views about their superiors. Bosses that show interest in the welfare of the staff will find that their employees are more approachable and honest. But maintaining a distance or preferring to remain only in the company of other expats may hamper the relationship.

When it comes to decision-making, it varies from one workplace to another depending on each company’s organizational structure. In many businesses, the decisions are made according to hierarchy, especially in case of businesses that have a majority shareholder. But there are many organizations that prefer to hold regular decision meetings that are attended by the board of directors, managers and company directors. Even in such meetings, however, decision-making usually follows a hierarchical structure.

Developing healthy business relationships is part of any professional’s life. In Malaysia, it is the norm to be friends with a person before conducting business with them and there tends to be a greater level of trust and comfort during business proceedings. To set the tone for such a relationship, both parties usually have a meal together, as food is an important part of Malaysian culture. It is also a practice to play a sport like golf or squash together. Maintaining good personal relations with clients also helps to increase your influence in the professional environment.

Since Malaysia is a predominantly Muslim country, physical contact such as handshakes may be inappropriate between the sexes. If the woman extends her hand out first, then it is fine to shake it; but it is safer not to initiate a handshake with a woman.

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In case of work-related problems with colleagues, it is important not to confront them directly. ‘Saving face’ is an important part of Malaysian culture and most people do not like being reprimanded in public. Malaysians avoid being direct especially with their superiors and it may sometimes be hard to know if any of the employees are having a problem. It may only become evident if you realize they are avoiding you or if you hear about it from a third party.