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Vietnam / When Doing Business

The Vietnamese Workplace: Habits, Etiquette, Practices Explained

Thanks to the great influence of Confucianism, Vietnamese people have great respect for etiquette in the public and at work. Although times have changed a lot you should still keep in mind the following guide to speak and act properly at work.

Interaction in the Office

Go Out for Lunch or Order Food At Work

Having lunch with colleagues is a must in Vietnam. Usually, each person pays for what they order. Sometimes, a manager invites staff and pays for the meal. Whether you are a manager or an employee, if you’d like to pay for the meal, you need to inform everyone before going to the restaurant.

4 PM is widely considered the Vietnamese ‘tea time’ at the workplace. Some companies are strict about employees ordering food, but most are relaxed about it. Commonly, everyone pays for their order or the bill is divided equally if it’s a group order.

chinese tea

Hang Out After Work

If you work in an office in Vietnam, chances are you will be invited to a get-together after work to cool off. Vietnamese people like to drink beer in the summer and enjoy hot pot in the winter. Needless to say, these activities are ideal for gatherings after work.

When invited to join after work activities, don’t decline. This is usually a good opportunity to get to know your colleagues better and grow closer to your team. That said, you don’t have to say yes every time! And when alcohol is present, you shouldn’t feel pressured to drink.

Singing karaoke is another favourite among office people. This happens when the company celebrates birthdays for those born in the same month. So what should you do in this situation? Cheer enthusiastically and if possible, sing a song!

Male employees in Vietnamese companies can gather to play soccer after work. This has got so popular that companies even organise soccer tournaments.

photo credit: vietnamworks.com

Communication in the Office

Use Proper Pronouns

In Vietnamese, there are more pronouns than just “you” and “I”. Depending on the age, you can call someone a sister (chị), a brother (anh), an auntie (), or an uncle (chú/bác). 

In the Vietnamese workplace, it is very common for older managers to prefer a younger pronoun despite their ages. Even if a junior is 20 or 30 years younger, he/she should still call the older manager anh (brother) or chị (sister). This practice is accepted in both state companies and private ones. In a way, this practice helps junior staff to get closer to their superiors.

Communicate with Managers

In the past, the relationship between a superior and a junior in a company was rigid. A junior would be extremely respectful, almost scared of his/her manager. He/she would have to address “yes, sir” or “yes, ma’am” and would never dare to talk back. 

It is however not a reality anymore. In the modern workplace, you can say ‘no’ and demand a discussion about work with your boss. Still, you should address matters with your boss with respect.

Communicate with Clients

When in-Person

Exchange Business Cards

The handover of business cards custom in Vietnam partly derives from Confucius’s philosophy. When meeting for the first time, people in management positions exchange business cards with each other. Then, comes the staff level (if they have cards).

Depending on the position of the recipient, you should hand out your card with two hands or one hand. But it is crucial to hold the card in a way so that the receiver can quickly scan what’s written there.

If you’re the recipient, do respectfully skim information. Then, put it in your pocket or clip it in a notebook. You absolutely must not put the card in your pants’ pocket. This can be interpreted as being disrespectful.

Shake hands

The proper way of shaking hands in meetings in Vietnam follows the globally accepted codes

Nevertheless, there are a few things you should take note of when shaking hands in Vietnam:

  • Men and women should not shake hands too tightly and for too long, especially when she wears a lot of jewellery on her hands.
  • Women can sit and shake hands.
  • Do not stand higher than the other person when shaking hands. 
  • Shake hands with your right hand (unless impossible). Use your left hand is considered rude because it implies a wicked, unrighteous meaning.

Embrace with kisses

Vietnamese people do not have the habit of hugging and kissing when meeting each other. But now, some companies have introduced the Western culture of embrace. In general, when welcoming guests with a hug and kiss gesture, you should give a gentle hug and pat on the back, if you are close to your cheeks.

photo credit: vietnamworks.com

Attend a Party at the Workplace

Office parties are great opportunities to bond with your team and let loose. But to enjoy the event wholeheartedly, take note of the following dos and don’ts.

Do remain courteous

Party or not, the office environment should remain professional. You shouldn’t speak too casually to co-workers, especially your boss. Never flirt and leave the dirty jokes to friends only!

Do wear nice clothes

An office party is a perfect time for playing dress-up. Also, women are often encouraged to wear Ao Dai on such occasions.

Don’t drink too much

A little bit of alcohol at a party can be fun. But don’t go too far. Don’t forget you are still at work! Plus, a red face and smelling like alcohol are never a good look when in public.

Don’t wear revealing clothes

The party attire is surely different from the everyday outfits. Cocktail or even black-tie attire is encouraged. But remember not to put on anything revealing.

photo credit: paoquan.vn

Office Attire

In Vietnam, not all companies require employees to wear uniforms. Typically, the HR team is in charge of training employees on the company‘s dress code. So do pay attention!

A very common custom is that many companies allow employees to ‘dress down’ on Fridays (TGIF!). This is when you can wear your t-shirts and jeans to work! However, the workplace should remain a professional environment. So, leave your revealing clothes or t-shirts with inappropriate content at home.

Gift Giving Manner

A common gesture in Vietnamese offices is to buy some gifts for colleagues after returning from travel. The gifts are usually local specialties and suit the tastes of most colleagues such as cakes, candies, and dried meats.

This culture is quite similar to the Japanese (they buy gifts to thank their colleagues for helping them when they are absent).

(Curious about the gift-giving customs in Vietnam? Discover all you need to know here).

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