Tips and Information on Hong Kong Business Culture and Work Etiquette
Hong Kong is known as a bustling economic hub with a mega-urban city and attracts companies and talents from all over the world. It has a unique East-meets-West business culture and work etiquette that is typically formal, polite, and respectful.
Dress Code for Work
Although dress codes tend to range from formal to smart casual, it is common for people to wear suits or ties and dress more conservatively, with particular preferences for clean, simple, and solid colours. Formal wear is still considered important for first impressions and looking well-dressed is always a bonus for establishing a good business reputation. Colorful patterns and flashy designs are not as common for business wear and there is added focus on designer labels and accessories such as briefcases, watches, and glasses.
Due to weather conditions, it is common to dress in thinner and more breathable material in hot summers while wearing thicker materials when the weather gets cooler. Typhoons are also common and it is recommended to carry an umbrella during typhoon season.
Important Tips for Hong Kong’s Business Culture
1. Business Cards
Business cards are commonly used in Hong Kong and is an important work practice for social networking. The exchange of business cards is usually followed by a formal handshake which shouldn’t be too strong or too gentle. Cards should be offered and accepted with both hands, and there should be some time taken to examine the card received as a show of respect. It is also essential that the business card offered is in perfect condition and without any wrinkles or smudges.
A business card should contain both English and Chinese characters (specifically in the traditional Chinese script used in Hong Kong) and can have one side in English, the other in Chinese, or to have both scripts in a bilingual format. It is worth getting advice on the proper Chinese translation for your business card to ensure it is accurate and professional. It is important that the business card contains your job title as seniority is taken seriously in Hong Kong.
2. Meetings and Negotiations
It is common for meetings to be set up by a middle-man and other social connections. Initial meetings tend to be more social and maybe through a lunch or dinner set up in a formal restaurant. Expect such meetings to have alcohol involved as it is a common work etiquette and a sign of respect to drink with potential business partners. There will be small talk involved and it is important not to rush to talk about business matters. Should the initial meeting go well, there will be an opportunity to set up a second business meeting in the office.
Presentations should be done with facts and figures, with particular focus on growth and proper consideration of both short-term and long-term scenarios. Any negotiations that take place should be done in a patient and diplomatic way even if things do not end up being successful or go the way as planned. Directly aggressive tactics are not favoured and it is recommended that negotiations take place in a logical and composed manner.
3. Time Management
Punctuality is very important in Hong Kong’s business culture and lateness is often viewed as a sign of being unprofessional. If it is unavoidable that you will be late for a meeting, make sure to let them know beforehand and apologize sincerely when you arrive. If you are unable to attend a business event or meeting, make sure to reschedule it as simply declining is considered rude.
Deadlines may not always be fixed and there is always room to renegotiate them as long as they are done in a respectful manner. It is also important not to schedule meetings during holidays such as Christmas, Chinese New Year, and Valentine’s day as they are considered personal days when business meetings shouldn’t occur.
4. Respect of Seniority
Seniority and business hierarchy is taken very seriously in Hong Kong. You must always greet the most senior figures first in a group setting and proceed in a descending order for the rest. Seating orders depend on rank and it is important to respect this by sitting at the appropriate seat. Senior members also have preferential treatment and they are usually the ones that speak first and lead a meeting or negotiation. Expect to be treated differently depending on your own job title and rank.
5. Business Gifts
It is common to give and receive business gifts to business partners and connections. Gifts also tend to be given for festive events such as Chinese New Year and Christmas or for a person’s birthday.
When choosing a gift, remember that brands matter and a gift from a designer label should be given in the bag it came from. Gifts should always be wrapped or packaged tastefully. Never give personal gifts such as handkerchief, perfume, or scarves as they are considered too intimate and avoid giving clocks or sharp objects as they are considered inauspicious. Common gifts may include alcohol, branded chocolates, floral arrangements, decorative vases or paintings, and festive foods such as moon cakes or pastries. It is also considered rude to unwrap a gift immediately in front of the person who gave it to you.
Should you encounter a situation whereby someone refuses your gift at first, make sure to continue offering it to the individual as it is considered normal and also polite for someone to refuse a gift on the first offer.
It is common for business partners to be invited to parties and weddings. Depending on your seniority, you may also be expected to provide red packets (which are a red envelope with money inside) as an employer to your employees on Chinese New Year.