What to Expect If You Work in a Company in Thailand

Every year thousands of westerners are moving to Thailand, either short-term or long-term, to work for a Thai company. When they get to Thailand though and begin to work, almost immediately they realize how confusing and frustrating working for a Thai company can be. Thai culture is completely different than western culture and this is seen in the work place too. Knowing what to expect when working for a Thai company though can go a long way to making the experience easier and more pleasurable.

Thais Don’t Like To Follow Advice From Foreigners – One thing westerners discover when they come to Thailand is, even though they may have been hired for their expertise, when it comes right down to it, most Thais aren’t going to listen to it. And they’re certainly not going to implement your suggestions to improve things.

Almost every foreigner that arrives in Thailand thinks this won’t happen to them. Thais are extremely good at making you think they’re listening to suggestions and will follow through on what you say. Months later, when nothing has changed and they realize it never will, most foreigners get discouraged, frustrated and finally quit.

If working for a company in Thailand, you can’t get angry or disappointed if things don’t change quickly. If you do, you’ll spend your entire time in Thailand angry and disappointed, and that would be a shame. Instead look at it as ‘baby steps’.

If you expect Thais to listen to your suggestions and do something about them, you’ll be highly disappointed. If, however, you expect Thais to listen, ignore you, and then maybe change a teeny tiny thing six months later, you’ll be happy. As that’s what’s likely to happen.

Thais Don’t Like Confrontation – Because Thais don’t like confrontation and rarely confront, if you’re doing something wrong at work it’s unlikely they’ll tell you. They will however tell your friends who, they hope, will tell you. And that way you’ll learn what you need to change.

I’ve even asked Thais why they won’t directly tell someone if they’re making a mistake and they all answer the same thing. “I don’t want to hurt his/her feelings”.

In Thai culture, unlike in western culture, they feel it hurts the person’s feelings less if it comes from a friend. So they’ll complain about you behind your back and hope someone tells you and, if they don’t, they’ll often just allow you to keep on making the mistake. After all, that’s better than having to go through the excrutiating pain of confrontation. Well, at least, it is for a Thai.

Thais Aren’t Efficient – If you expect the efficiency of the west in a typical Thai company, don’t. I’ve worked for four Thai companies, including one of the ‘Big Four’ accounting firms and the efficiency we’re used to in the west, in most companies (there are a few exceptions), simply doesn’t exist in Thailand.

Thais like to have a relaxed work environment and not too much stress. Being expected to be efficient means working too fast and results in far too much stress. So, less efficiency is seen as a happier, more comfortable work environment. Even if it does mean they produce less than their western counterparts.

Thais Are Not Competitive – As a nationality, overall, Thais are not competitive. So, working for a company in Thailand, if you expect the competitiveness of the west when it comes to getting new orders, being innovative or beating the competition, it’s not likely to happen.

Thais don’t enjoy competing as they feel it hurts the person who loses. In business, one of the companies I worked for prided themselves on getting business by ‘word of mouth’.

While their immediate competitors were out pounding the pavement for new clients and even stealing clients from my company, my company was happy to just get clients by ‘word of mouth’, even if that meant having less of them than their competitors. After all, no-one got hurt that way.

Thais Will Say They Understand, Even When They Don’t – If you give a Thai employee an assignment and ask “Do you understand?”, they will always tell you “Yes”. Even if they don’t. Then, they’ll either go off and complete the assignment incorrectly or, even worse, they just won’t do it at all as they didn’t understand how.

This is incredibly annoying to westerners working in Thai companies, as they don’t understand why a Thai employee wouldn’t simply say “Sorry, I don’t understand. Can you explain it again?”

Think of it like this. It all goes back to ‘losing face’. If a Thai has to admit they don’t understand, they’re ‘losing face’. To a westerner, who believes you ‘lose more face’ by either doing it incorrectly or not doing it at all, it’s something you’ll never understand. Honestly, don’t even try to. It just is.

To ensure a Thai employee does understand, you will have to monitor them every step of the way and coax them into doing it the right way. Sure, it sounds like a lot of trouble. And it is. But, if you don’t do this, you’ll end up having to do the task yourself, and that would be even worse.

Working in a Thai company is a lot of fun. Thais are lovely people and they’re fun to work with, ar more fun than westerns, I think. Thai companies are more relaxed, less stressful and very much like a ‘family’. You’ll be taken care of, brought food, highly respected and, likely, make many friends. Just don’t expect to get that much done, at least not like you would in the west, and you’ll be much happier that way.


Photo copyright – Employees in a Thai company – copyright Keng Susumpow