Workplace cultural differences: Australians vs.Filipinos

Workplace cultural differences: Australians vs.Filipinos
Mitch Punzalan
Mitch Punzalan
    7 minute read

When outsourcing to the Philippines, or to a different country for that matter, overcoming cultural differences is a common concern for many businesses. Not understanding these cultural differences can directly impact whether your outsourcing journey is a success. From understanding how to efficiently interview Filipino talent to communicating KPIs and managing an offshore team. 

One of the biggest misconceptions about outsourcing offshore are potential language barriers which could impact communication. To the contrary, the Philippines is one of the largest English speaking countries in the world and shares many cultural similarities with Australia due to Western influences. However, there are some key cultural differences you may need to be aware of when considering outsourced Filipino teams. 

In this blog, we will discuss these key workplace cultural differences, how to manage them and how to effectively interview Filipino staff.

Workplace cultural differences: Australia vs. the Philippines

Tholon, a global strategic firm, released their Global Innovation Index 2020, in which they rank the most attractive outsourcing destinations based on factors such as talent, skill, cost, infrastructure, quality of life and digital innovation. The Philippines ranked sixth out of the top 50 nations measured. 

All these factors measured in Tholons report could collectively be referred to as something we call ‘culture’. Filipinos tend to be very honest, hard-working and loyal, and while they do show some differences in behaviourisms, you may find that Filipinos are easier to work with due to the characteristics they uphold.

Here are a few key cultural differences between Australians and Filipinos in the workplace and how to manage them:

Key performance indicators and targets

Depending on the role, Australians often dislike having their performance quantified against key performance indicators (KPIs). Filipinos on the other hand, love KPIs and working towards targets, especially in an outsourced setting as this allows them to truly measure their performance against your expectations.

How to connect these cultural differences: Discuss any KPIs or success measures you’d like to put in place with your outsourced provider first up. Ensure they have someone dedicated, like an account manager to assist you with this to align your KPIs with the expectations of the role(s).

Professional relationships

Australians tend to like to keep relationships between employees professional and friendships, if necessary or valued, tend to develop slowly over time. Filipino friendships, in or outside of the workplace, tend to develop very quickly and team members partake and enjoy frequent social catch ups outside of the office. They truly value establishing such relationships as a way to connect with their colleagues.

How to connect these cultural differences: Don’t be too concerned if your FIlipino staff catch up socially outside of work frequently, it helps to create a good working environment for them. 

Daily management and escalation points

Australians tend to be very independent when it comes to problem solving. The term ‘entrepreneurial spirit’ is a common term used for classifying Australians in the workplace who place a lot of value and trust in their personal working abilities. In other words, Australian’s don’t feel the need to go and ask permission or run ideas past their supervisors if the action is not severely consequential and would ultimately better the team or company in some way. Filipinos value their direct supervisors’ or senior team members’ input and are wary of taking the initiative if not in a position to do so. They tend to escalate issues more frequently than Australians - more related to the motto of ‘won’t know if you don’t ask’.

How to connect these cultural differences: Provide clear direction on where your staff need to go for help and how to go about doing so: is it best to ask over phone, email or are there resources to address their questions first? Providing a timeline of when tasks are meant to be completed and setting up regular check in meetings to address progress provides good opportunities for them to voice questions.

Avoiding confrontation

Australians are known to be quite open and straightforward with each other and have no issues having upfront conversations that may be a bit confrontational. As mentioned before, they are great problem-solvers and usually go into these types of conversations well-prepared and ready to offer solutions. Filipinos also prefer receiving straightforward feedback but may be more hesitant to raise difficult issues if the recipient of the feedback does not like hearing bad news just to avoid confrontations. As Filipinos are naturally quite empathetic, they very much take into account the other person's feelings when addressing work conversations.

How to connect these cultural differences: Use open ended questions to check in on tasks or deadlines such as “can you share with me what your next steps are on this task?” Or “can you share with me any difficulties you may be having so I can support you?” A great way to ensure no miscommunication is to ask for a ‘receipt’ when speaking about harder topics or briefing a new project. This way, they repeat back to you exactly what points you wanted to get across to avoid the need for further confrontations down the line.

Giving (and receiving) feedback

Australians sometimes find it hard to deal with criticism. As they are quite independent when it comes to working behaviourisms, a great deal of pride is placed in their results. They often find it difficult responding to criticism because they truly had the best interests of the project at heart. Filipinos thrive on detailed feedback (positive or negative) on the quality of work and take feedback as an opportunity to improve their skills. The more constructive and detailed the feedback the better.

How to connect these cultural differences: Coach your staff on improvements with the help of your outsourcing provider. Have your assigned client experience or account manager join in on any feedback meetings and tag them in any communications, emails and so on that communicate this feedback as well. They are your eyes and ears on the ground, working alongside your Filipino team, so it's important they know just as much as you to streamline communication.

Taking breaks

Many Australians find it hard to stop and start projects once they are on a roll. Because of this, it’s not unusual for Australians to work through breaks and sometimes lunch. Filipinos prefer structured work breaks and lunches as it lines up well with their KPIs and targets and they can better plan their working hours around these expectations.

How to connect these cultural differences: If you have a particular time you would like to avoid for lunches or breaks, let your offshore team know. They will be more than happy to plan their work breaks around you.

Sick leave

Sticking with the point that Australians prefer professional relationships, when they are unwell and need to call in sick, they usually stick to a similar script: “I am not feeling well today and will need to take the day off”. Filipinos call in sick, and staying true to that empathetic nature, add quite a bit of detail on how the sickness is affecting them. A similar script could be along the lines of: “I have a really bad sore throat, I think I developed it from a birthday party on the weekend for my brother, I need to go to the doctor so need the day off to recover.”

How to connect these cultural differences: Don’t be too concerned with oversharing regarding sickness. If anything, it’s their way of showing their comfort and trust in you as a leader.

With these key cultural factors in mind and knowing how to manage them, you can confidently start moving into the process of hiring your first offshore, Filipino team.

Workplace cultural differences: Australians vs.Filipinos

How to effectively interview Filipino staff

Just like recruiting staff locally, the ‘job interview’ is an important part of the selection process. It is an opportunity for you to ask questions and develop an understanding of the applicant’s skills and experience, personality, as well as cultural fit within your business. 

Here are some top tips to effectively interview Filipino staff:

Introduce yourself and your business

It’s important to introduce yourself and your business, and explain a little bit about the role, but keep in mind that this is when you need to make the applicant feel at ease. So don’t give too much detail at this stage, and instead, turn the focus to the applicant by asking them some questions to help you get to know them. This will help break the ice and create a better flowing dialogue right from the start. Feel free to ask the applicant about their family, where they live, how they get around and what they like doing. This will give you the opportunity to develop a general understanding about what motivates them, their personality type and will set up the discussion for the more in-depth section.

Understand their behaviours

Describe a common scenario or problem the role will be expected to deal with, and ask the applicant how they would handle it. When asking these sorts of questions, it is important to remember that most Filipinos will not understand the context in which your business operates. This is predominantly due to the cultural differences mentioned above. With this in mind, the purpose of behavioural questioning is to ascertain the applicant’s problem-solving skills and initiative. Don’t be too concerned if the answer is not what you’d expect a local to say; it may well be a completely acceptable solution in The Philippines.

Question their experience and review the resume

This is the opportunity to ask the applicant any questions about anomalies or concerns you may have about their resume. Ask them about any large gaps of unemployment, any trends in changing employers regularly, their education not matching their work experience and previous roles not matching up with the requirements of your role. Utilise this stage to clarify any queries you may have about the applicant. Make sure you cover everything off, as you do not want to be in a position where you hire someone you are not 100% certain on.

Ask open questions

Try to avoid asking closed questions. You want to get to know the applicant, and asking questions that require a one-word answer is not the way to do it. Ask questions that will get the applicant to open up and respond with a proper narrative, such as those which begin with phrases like: “tell me why,” “can you explain how,” “tell me more about” and “what do you think about.”

These types of questions will initiate a dialogue which you can follow up with further open questions and drive the conversation onward with your applicant. This will allow you both to learn the most about each other, so that you can both decide if you wish to proceed or not.

How to effectively manage offshore staff

Deciding to partner with an outsourcing provider is an exciting time for any organisation. Amid all of that excitement though, it is understandable for existing employees to feel a sense of trepidation. This can quickly evolve into heightened anxiety and risk the success for future outsourcing opportunities or plans if certain issues are not adequately addressed.

Check out our seven best practices that should be at the top of every manager’s mind when working with offshore teams to ensure smooth operations and efficient team management.

This blog was latest updated on March 23rd, 2022.

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