Normally, when working with foreigners, employers tend to be straightforward with their workers for the business to run smoothly: You do your job, I do mine. The same case applies to Filipinos. However, their cheerfulness makes things a lot easier.
Being in the shipping industry, it was hard not to hear stories about Filipino workers. It’s something that I have been familiar with since the 1970s. And these tales have been mostly positive –whether they are working on board the ships or running companies in the Philippines.
After 14 years of working with Filipinos in different industries, I can say that the stories were true. They do smile much too often, laugh a lot, are polite, respectful, all the clichés you can think of. But of course, not all Filipinos possess the same traits.
Lost in translation
Communicating with our Filipino clients can be confusing sometimes. It is partly because their English can be different at times and partly because of their different work ethics. Though most Filipinos are exposed to English from the day they are born, their words and sentences can have different meanings. In job interviews, Filipinos ask more questions than Europeans. And most of their questions can surprise you. Sometimes, it seems they they need to establish the “power positions.” But they do it in the typical, friendly and humorous way that they are known for.
When it comes to handling emotions in the workplace, Filipinos are as Asian as the next South East Asian. In comparison, Europeans know how to separate professional and personal feelings. Straightforwardness and blunt criticism are as alien in the Philippines as it is common in The Netherlands. I have noticed this can be very difficult for Filipinos.
Like anywhere else, a visitor is allowed some ignorance and ‘rude’ behavior. But when living permanently in a foreign country, the locals can be less flexible. In my experience with Filipinos working/living here (in the Netherlands) , it can be difficult for them. However, Filipinos eventually adapt to their new environment albeit gradually.
Sense of urgency
What I sometimes find difficult when working in the Philippines is their attitude towards time. Urgency seems to be not a part of their daily lives, at least for some of the Filipinos I’ve worked with. In the shipping industry, arrival and departure times are crucial. The importance of working fast is sometimes lost on them. On the other hand, a lot of things do get done on time.
The Filipinos I have met are patient and eager to learn. When they know their tasks, they do an excellent job. They will improvise and put in the extra effort. Hire the right people for the job and you will never need to look for another employee. However, hire the wrong one and the improvisation skills as well as dedication will have the opposite effect.
Adjusting to new environment
I see a big difference in attitude between the Filipino who chose to move abroad and the one who was forced to work overseas because of their circumstances. The former cherishes the new social structures, adjusting to their surroundings and seeking to learn more.
Another advantage that Filipinos have when working in North America and North Western Europe is their skill in reading body language. Westerners put value in the words spoken and written, for most Filipinos this is not so important. It is more important who, why, when, how and where things are said. In negotiations, Filipinos can easily outmaneuver Westerners who are not aware how their posture gives away their thoughts.
I’ve encountered Filipinos who do not adhere to the spoken and written agreement to the disadvantage of the trusting Westerner.
Like most Asians, saying “no” is not an option to Filipinos. Personally, I am okay with that, I don’t use it often myself. But getting a “yes” to everything without action can be very frustrating.
A joy to work with
Working with Filipinos can be a joy not only because they are skilled and dedicated, but also because they love to laugh. Having lunch or dinner with them is guaranteed to be full of mirth and humour. Their love for good food and their habit of sharing will bring some interesting culinary experiences. After all, work should also be fun and Filipinos know that.
About the author
Atle Schotel owns and runs a ship supply business in Rotterdam with a branch in Manila. He’s married to a Filipina and has Indonesian ancestry.