The East Asian Work Ethic

Although it’s difficult to make a general statement about the diverse cultures that make up Asia, it is fair to say that the East Asian work ethic is significantly different than the North American work ethic.

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The key difference seems to be that Americans are more individually motivated, while East Asians are more group-motivated. Americans and Canadians typically have used the philosophy that if you work hard you can reap the benefits of your labor and enjoy personal success. East Asians have instead historically been taught to strive for the success and harmony of their group rather than individual glory. An example of how this difference in attitude carries over to work might be the case of an employee who had finished all his work for the day by about 5pm. An American would generally head home satisfied, but an East Asian probably would stay until everyone was ready to leave and the manager had given permission to go. This permission might not come until the work group had “bonded” by drinking until midnight at a nearby bar.

We know of one teacher who asked all his Japanese students, “For you personally, who is the most important person in the world?,” then asked the same question of his Western coworkers. The Japanese answered, “my boss,” “my parents,” “my husband,” etc. The Westerners invariably answered, “myself.”

Of course, this isn’t to say that Westerners don’t care about others or that Asians never think of themselves, but it gives you an idea how the East Asian mindset differs from our own.

Don’t be shocked when you hear about employees working seven days a week or until midnight with no overtime pay. Remember, this sort of commitment is not expected of a foreign English teacher. Do keep in mind, however, that you represent your school, and expectations will be different from what you are used to. Try to be patient, understanding, and flexible, and remember that diversity is what international adventures are all about.

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