Difference between working with Asian vs Western companies

Asad Zulfahri
8 min readMay 4, 2021

The location of your workplace in the world plays a big role in determining your work experience. From allowances to co-worker relationships, there are as many differences as there are similarities.

Today we will look into the pros and cons of working with Asian and Western companies.


Unfortunately being yelled at by an employer or employee is a possibility in Asian workplaces. Shouting matches are counter-productive because it only adds fuel to the fire instead of unearthing solutions. Emotional maturity is still in its infancy within the Asian work culture with mindfulness seminars slowly gaining momentum.

That said, some modern Asian companies have started practicing civilized manners of dealing with issues, for as far back as twenty years now. Of course, emotional outbursts at the office does not occur in all Asian companies, but the possibility of it happening is there.

On the other hand, any type of voice raising towards co-workers is absolutely unacceptable on the western front. Instead of enforcing respect, it is gained through hard work and integrity.


While “ass kissing” is not a common practice with either party, some amount of it can be found in both western and Asian companies. Some managers enjoy having their employees constantly trying to impress them, regardless of the managers’ background and education level. Regrettably it is a personality trait. That said, western employers may not be as apparent with this need in comparison to their Asian counterparts.

On the other hand, there is a bad habit that can be encountered in some Asian companies. As with wanting to be idolized by “ass kissers”, there is a negative personality trait in certain individuals who cannot help but bring others down on their way up the career ladder. This certainly leads to conflicts and back stabbing between co-workers. It does not exist in all workplaces but sadly it does happen.


As far as internship is concerned, the goal of both Asian and Western companies is to groom interns so they may flourish in their future careers, regardless of whether or not it is with the host company. Nevertheless, some companies employ interns simply to take advantage of their respective government’s tax benefits. While others take the entire process very seriously and train the intern in every skill that is related to their field of expertise. In general, this can happen with any company, unnecessarily related to where it is located in the world.

In fact, the hiring process of interns also do not differ too much. The only possible variation would be between industries. The bottom line is, an intern’s experience with their internship depends on the company they intern for and the mentor they are assigned to.


The contrast between the relationship of Asian colleagues and western colleagues is undeniable. Employees in certain western countries tend to keep the professional relationship purely professional. The relationship ends at the office and there is no such thing as dinner invites to the homes of colleagues and more often than not, a life long friendship with your co-workers is not forged. You might be expected to attend coffee breaks in the pantry so you may socialize but it tends to end there. That said of course, this is a cultural thing and does not occur in every western company.

Meanwhile, Asian companies generally work the opposite way. You may be invited to your co-worker’s home to meet their significant other and in some instances, even their parents. You will be asked to attend to family birthdays and if you get along really well, you could be introduced to their own circle of close friends. You might even organize and take part in cultural and religious celebrations together and all this takes place outside of work. The practice is that after you have left the company, you still keep in touch by meeting up for drinks, dinners and parties.

Being an expat though, regardless of which company you work for, you tend to become friends because you are the odd ones out within the staff, on foreign land. Your similarities bring you together even if you are all from different parts of the world. That said, the bond is much stronger if you are from the same part of the world.


More often than not, your allowance or benefits are based on your pay grade. In Asia, you may receive meal cards, food allowances, petrol allowances, so on and so forth. In Belgium where I am, most (if not all) companies provide meal cards to all employees. And these meal cards are not restricted to meals eaten during work hours but also to be used for groceries. On top of that, there is also the thing with eco vouchers.

Eco vouchers are provided by certain companies and can be used to purchase environmentally friendly products. So you are able to shop for anything from fridges to garden equipment, for as long as they fit a certain requirement.


Hierarchy is very important within Malaysian work environments. I will not generalize by saying this is an Asian custom but Malaysians have a practice of giving respect to those who are in a higher position. Similar to the knighthood in UK, Malaysia has the “Datukship” that is very important within Malaysian work environments.

Malaysian royal families awards Datukship titles to deserving individuals annually and these titles afford them a higher standing in society. It goes without saying that this extends to the workplace too. For instance if you have a title to your name, you might be placed in the VIP or VVIP section at a company dinner. Your names will be mentioned first in the opening speeches of any event and you will be regarded by your title in the workplace and in most instances, even outside of the office.

In contrast, regardless of your position while working with non-Malaysian companies, your name does not get a special mention at events, as a CEO, you still sit along all your co-workers at company dinners and you are addressed by your first name by everyone at your office. There is no special treatment and this creates a sense of equality. This also reflects in how business is run. Your position in your workplace means nothing if you have nothing to show for it. Again, respect is earned, not enforced.


It is not uncommon to see job postings in Malaysia which state that the company is specifically searching for an individual who can speak a certain language. Some people regard this as discrimination and despite constant complaints, it is still rampant.

In the company I work for, if we ever need a person with the specific skill to speak a certain language, we ensure to include context on the posting. For instance perhaps we need an individual who can speak Spanish fluently because they will be in charge of dealing with Spanish-speaking clients on behalf of the company. Biases or discrimination in the hiring process is highly frowned upon and is in fact illegal in many Western countries.

This entire process traces back to something as basic as filling government related forms. In contrast to Malaysia, you are not required to state your race or religion in such forms. These pieces of information should not determine whether you get hired for a job.

It is also worth noting that in Asian countries, your study qualifications are usually looked at during the hiring process. Of course, if you are being hired for a specific-skilled position like an electrical engineer or a brain surgeon, of course an in depth background check on your education is required. But there is a practice of requesting for specific qualifications that is not even remotely related to the job you are applying for.

Some government positions may need you to achieve an A in a specific subject that is not utilized in the job. Western companies may either focus on your skills or your ability to speak their native language. For instance, you could be a PhD holder but you cannot seem to get a job placement in Europe due to the fact that you are not fluent speakers of the native language. Or those who are highly educated but cannot ace the rigorous interview process. Your level of education does not take center stage. It is mainly looked at as a filtering process on whether you have the basic knowledge required for the job. In essence, having a certificate does not ensure you will be good on the job.


Asians are generally seen as hardworking individuals due to the fact that competing to be the best and stand out has been drilled into us from a young age. But the dark side of this is an unhealthy work-life balance.

Asians normalize working overtime and bringing work home because we are constantly chasing deadlines. For some reason, near impossible deadlines is almost a lifestyle.

In certain western countries, it is illegal for your employer to call or text you after work hours. You are expected to manage your time wisely and finish your tasks within working hours and if you can’t, you do not take your work home. If work-related messages are sent after office hours, there not expectation of an instant reply. In fact, you should only address the message once you are back at work the next day. The result of this is a fantastically balanced work-life situation.

Most times Asians struggle with shops and restaurants closing at 8pm in European countries simply because in Asia, you have eateries that stay open 24 hours and shops that close at 10pm. Asians may also find paperwork takes a long time to process in western countries because people do not work beyond their office hours.

Whereas in certain Asian companies, leaving work at the time you are supposed to, can create gossip around the office. Co-workers may brand you as being lazy or not a team player.

Of course, it goes without saying that where there are humans, there will always be gossip and this does not exclude the workplace, regardless of where you are in the world. That said, in most western companies, company gossip is just that, a rumor and nothing of the malicious nature or anything that will cost somebody their job for no substantial reason.


You may find employees in certain western countries do not have the same competitive nature most Asians do. It might surprise Asians to see their western counterparts lacking ambition even. These countries have fantastic welfare benefits and therefore do not encourage such strong competition in life and in work.

Meanwhile, Asians are naturally competitive, as mentioned before, it has been drilled into us since young. Of course competition exists everywhere but the western definition of the word is unlike how the Asians perceive it.

It is usually a healthy one where co-workers encourage each other to strive to become a better version of themselves. With everything else mentioned above, there are of course pros and cons to this more laid back style of work.

To summarize, working anywhere in the world comes with its own benefits and downfalls and ultimately it is up to you to pick what suits your own personality and style of work.



Asad Zulfahri

Freelance Technical SEO Consultant. Previously @Zapier @Monster. Internet ninja. Food lover. Certified introvert. Music advocate. World Traveler.