On face value this question is pretty tough to answer, in fact a cynic would say this is going to be a very short blog. I have worked with Thais here in Thailand for the best part of 8 years now and at times they drive me crazy, but this question is broader than work related, it is in general. What can us Westerners learn from Thais?
In order to learn from someone or another group of individuals we need to know our objective. For a Westerner we rate success on material position, sad but true. We are ambitious in order to achieve a better life. We are also very independent and individual. A Thai person is more group orientated and will do things together, life is more for the moment. It is about having fun.
Now the issue with writing such a blog is that it’s opinion based, and some may disagree with me – but hey ho, this should not stop me having a view and sharing it with others. And please understand that these generalizations are for the masses as, of course, there are exceptions. I actually work with excellent Thais in Bangkok, first rate in fact.
I was talking to a fellow business associate in Thailand recently and he felt the reason Thais were so different to Westerners is that they lack the ability to see ‘consequence over action’. He cited an example where some of his staff started to arrive later and later for work, until it finally got to around 10am. Quite rightly he pulled them and told them opening hours were 9am. They replied that there were no customers and so what was the point. He, again quite rightly, pointed out that of course there would be no customers if there were no staff to serve them and that their work hours are from 9am, regardless, and so just be on time. But still they continued to be late.
After numerous warnings he told them they were fired. They were shocked, it was genuinely a surprise. “You cannot fire us what have we done?!” was their reply. They just did not see it coming and could not fathom that there would be a consequence due to their actions.
This type of anecdote I hear all the time and I also experience it all the time with my own Thai staff.
In fact just last week talking with another company I work in Thailand. They are moving their business to India from Thailand as they find the Indians more punctual and get their jobs done without continual prompting.
So what can we learn from Thais?
The key here is in approach and recognising our own weaknesses. Westerners work very hard, we are up against deadlines and often bring our work home with us. This is at the expense of our families, we compromise quality time with our loved ones due to work. Even after our working day has finished we are left exhausted and that impacts on family life.
I don’t see this so much with Thais. Family is fundamental and they remain tight units. I think this is more legacy out of circumstance by the way, families need to be tight in Thailand to provide the support they need.
But I do see a more relaxed lifestyle from Thai people. They make sure they take their one hour lunch break and will more often than not take it as a group. This is why they always stop for lunch at 12noon as they know that is when others will stop for lunch too. Westerners squeeze lunch in and eat alone, often at their desk whilst still working.
When I look at those two scenarios, who really has it right in terms of work life balance?
I work myself hard here in Thailand, I put myself under my own pressure and stress in my pursuit of ‘glory’. But is it that important success that I crave or should I ease off and enjoy myself more? Something Thais are very good at.
I often think that the solution is if Westerners and Thais could learn from each others positive traits then the outcome would be a much nicer one for people.
Before I sign off from this blog, I also just want to mention how I approach each article. Firstly, I only have so much time each day to prepare this. I know I could do more research and spend longer to give each topic more robustness but I just do not get time. If I were to take longer it would mean only one blog per week. Yes you the reader would get more quality but you would get less content from me. So, do remember this is hobby sideline for me, I have decided to blog often but quickly. A chance for me to offload some ideas, suggestions and observations that you can ponder and hopefully gain some enjoyment from the experience.
I don’t for one moment suggest I have the correct answers, but what I do have is my views.