Talent Retention in China: The Socio-Cultural Aspects (Part II)

人才保留 [réncáibǎoliú] Talent RetentionThis blog entry is a follow-up entry to Talent Retention in China: Some Suggestions for the Western Executive and covers the socio-cultural aspects that Western executives in China should be aware of order to enhance employee retainment and commitment in their organisation.

In China, as anywhere, people want to be treated well by their employer and manager. The trick is to understand what “being treated well” means in China as it can be different and certainly more complicated that in the West.

As I see it, there are two main socio-cultural aspects that, if understood and managed well, will help the MNC to not only retain their staff but also to build strong commitment in the organisation. These are Guanxi and Mianzi.


Although often quoted and sometimes misunderstood, Guanxi is very important to Chinese employees. Guanxi can be likened to the use of networking in the West but Chinese put a much larger emphasis on it as it places a premium on individual’s social capital within their group of friends, relatives and colleagues.

Westerners tend to separate their personal and work life while Chinese, due to the collective culture, employees see their companies as not only a commercial organisation but also as a social entity or extended family. Hence, managers are expected to care for them both on a professional and personal level as much as caring for the business’ general well-being.

To build organisational commitment, it is crucial for managers to gain the trust and confidence of the staff. Interestingly, employee commitment is stronger to the manager in charge than to the organisation in general. Therefore, if employees lose trust and confidence in their manager, they may depart. Likewise, if a manager is offered a more attractive job elsewhere, he or she can often bring a group of subordinates to the new organisation.

You will find that managers that takes out colleagues or staff on dinners, attends a junior staffs’ wedding, visits an employee who is ill or arranges family-days or picnics in the park have the best rapport with their staff.

Because the manager is often seen almost as an older sibling figure in the Chinese context, he or she is also expected to be available to give advice on personal matters. In exchange for their hard work and loyalty, Chinese employees may expect personal favours from their managers. This should not be considered rude or unusual. It is simply a way for employees to show that they are part of the corporate family.

In some circumstances, it makes sense to hire an individual who has been recommended by another employee. This type of inside connection strengthens the bond between the new employee and the company from the start. The new employee will also be less likely to leave the company so as not to hurt the reputation of the recommending friend.

In the same way, Westerners that wish to establish good Guanxi within their organisation will need to actively build their Guanxi and in this way gain both higher loyalty, commitment and retainment levels. If on the other hand the manager is disconnected from the workforce or inter-personal relationships are too complicated, the employees cannot feel the expected personal connection and are then likely to depart no matter how well they are compensated.



Mianzi defines a persons place in his or her social network and is the most important measure of social capital. Therefore, although nobody likes to be embarrassed, saving face and avoiding embarrassing situations are particularly important in the Chinese workplace. The cause of embarrassment or loss of composure, even unintentionally, can cause disastrous interpersonal relations.

Here are a couple of situational examples:

  • Never reprimand a person in public or too harshly. Soft criticism or other indirect methods are better ways of getting the point across.
  • It is also important to never pit employees against each other (maintain the harmony in the workplace).
  • Be aware of publicly comparing employees against each other in for example; sales performance or production output.
  • In promotions, be careful not to promote one employee without promoting or in other ways commending other as it could cause loss of face.

Remember: employees who are (repeatedly) put in embarrassing situations are less likely to remain loyal to his or her boss or the company and could result in departure or less ethical behaviour.


Please feel free to post your comment or link/recommend this blog entry if you found it useful.


2 comments to Talent Retention in China: The Socio-Cultural Aspects (Part II)

  • Grace Guo

    Yes, Yes and Yes. Your article is very accurate and true. I have seen too many senior expats completely ignorant or unable to grasp these concepts.


  • Sandra Chen

    Thank you for this clear analysis and advice. Many forefinger comes to does not understand this and cause problem with retention.

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