I consider myself to be an average Australian.
I enjoy a little TV, weekends down south, a cold beer and believe democracy is a pretty good idea.
But the one thing I was brought up with was witnessing my parents and all their Asian friends’ insatiable appetite for work.
I’m not joking.
And wherever I travel, our steely work ethic is applauded, especially by ex-teachers who all tell me how well Asian kids apply themselves.
We’re like little academic ninjas.
The only thing we didn’t seem to excel at was sports. And for me, swimming.
And whenever you visit Asia, the grinding long hours are part of their culture.
Why do we work so damn hard?
The Chinese culture work ethic is based on a Confucian Principle, which demands respect for the elderly and perfection in work.
Although Confucius was a philosopher centuries ago, his teachings are held in the highest regard in China (and across the South East) today and shape their society and culture.
But one thing I learned above all else, the Asian work ethic is legendary across the world.
So, are we genetically hard-wired to work and what underpins our beliefs and values that keep us persisting to the very end?
Success and money are important trophies but to understand their core motivations, we need to dive into the 5 aspects of Asian work culture.
Success and money are important trophies but to understand their core motivations, we need to dive into the five aspects of Asian work culture:
- Focus on Results – The ethos of the Asian work ethic is that hard work pays off and contributes to a happy life. One such proverb is shìshàng wú nánshì, which translates to “nothing is impossible to a willing mind”. Asians use sheer determination and diligence to achieve their goals, whatever they may be.
- Chi Ku – The Chinese are driven by results and leave no stone unturned in delivering the best. As per Statista’s data, employees in Chinese enterprises were surveyed to have logged an average of 48.7% in August 2023. This, again, goes back to the Confucian work ethic, one aspect of which is “Chi Ku” — the act of persisting through hardship. Chi Ku is a valued way to earn respect — and possibly a promotion.
- Success isn’t Left to Chance – You’ve heard the saying “hard work beats talent”. Well, that’s something the Asians attest to. Right from school, Asians are taught that anything can be achieved through hard work and diligence, not just talent. China’s rapid development over the last decade isn’t because of its technological advancement – it’s a tip of the hat to the Asian culture work ethic of the locality.
- Competition is Good – Being competitive and having a goal-oriented spirit is inherent to every Asian child and is further instilled at a very young age. If your best friend got an A, you’ll make sure you got the same.
- They’re Super Resilient – Obstacles or inconveniences don’t deter them, they just find a way around it. They come up with alternate methods to achieve their goals. The Chinese have a phrase for it – cha bu duo, which translates to “good enough”. In cha bu duo, the focus is less on process and rules and more on the result. And if you can’t find a solution around it, then build a bridge to get over it.
This article was not written to place the Asian work ethic above any culture, but rather to provide an intimate insight into how 5000 thousand years of history and culture have shaped over 2 billion people’s values and behaviour.
And what have I found with working with both Australian and Asian clients is that both still want old-fashioned great service, strong relationships and results.
And when good Asian clients SMS me in the evening, I respond because I like working with them, not because I am obligated.
We ALWAYS do more for people we like, it’s just that simple.
On another note, our team start work at 9 am and finish at 5 pm, not because we aren’t hard workers, but because it’s our unique culture which we celebrate every day.