For 10 years, we have run a successful small publishing and creative agency in Ho Chi Minh City. During that time, we have recruited, managed, trained and evaluated more than 120 Vietnamese employees and more than 40 expatriate workers.
Our conclusion is that at equal qualifications, employers are most often better off with female Vietnamese employees.
Many experienced foreign managers would even dare to say that the best candidates are divorced women older than 35 with a child. Why? Sadly, since they’ve gone through hardship before, they know the meaning of responsibility that comes with being a single parent and know the value of a stable income.
Obviously, this is not a hard-and-fast rule, but most foreigners I’ve met who have done business in HCMC agree with this statement. Without fail, they give credit to the loyal and intelligent Vietnamese workforce and their hard-working spirit. The tables below illustrate a few things we’ve noticed.
Vietnamese workers can be...
But we’ve also seen workers who are......
Hesitant to take initiative
Reluctant to speak up
Passionate about technology
Positive and optimistic
Short-sighted in terms of vision and planning
Respectful and polite
Hesitant to disagree with a superior
Friendly and helpful
Reluctant to say “no”
Hardworking and eager to learn
Not used to giving praise
Proud of their heritage
Expat workers can be...
But we’ve also seen workers who are...
Well-trained and qualified
Experienced and independent
Expectant of a high salary
Creative and free-thinking
Adventurous and not dependable
Open-minded and curious
Inclined to look down on other cultures
Flexible (to a point)
Demanding and needy
Let me clarify that these are personal experiences while working with educated, white-collar Vietnamese employees with at least a bachelor’s degree, more than two years of prior work experience and good English speaking skills. Ultimately, the one thing managers of Vietnamese employees agree on is the challenge of dealing with a very high average turnover rate of more than 20 percent.
Further constraints include education and traditional value systems that do not promote team-building and decision-making skills. This is why managers should invest plenty of time and energy into training and professionally developing their employees.
Of course, this advice can’t be applied to everyone in Vietnam. You shouldn’t lose sight of each employee’s individuality and reduce a population to stereotypes. There is an important difference between saying, “In Vietnam, people represent their community rather than themselves,” and saying, “All Vietnamese think and act cooperatively.”
(1) understand and respect their Vietnamese workers’ cultural values and practices; (2) integrate these into the office culture; and (3) have a well-functioning HR practice and, more specifically, good communication with employees.
More than anything, let’s remember that most Vietnamese are keen to grow with foreign managers, as long as foreign managers respect Vietnamese culture and make efforts to grow with their workers, too.
How to behave with Vietnamese
How not to behave with Vietnamese
Communicate sensitively and identify indirect communication channels
Don’t assume that your culture is somehow superior
Be patient and strengthen your relationships
Never lose your temper or shout
Be relaxed and do not anger easily
Don’t complain about someone in front of others
Use simple English; avoid slang and cursing
Don’t expect people and society to change to suit you
Smile as often as possible
Don’t criticise any family members in any way
Respect and try to understand local manners and lifestyles
Don’t criticise temple traditions
Learn a bit of the Vietnamese language, geography, history and culture
Don’t criticise political figures or the government
Respect the elderly in your actions and words
Don’t speak disrespectfully about President Ho Chi Minh