04 May 2005
As in many Chinese companies, from time to time things get pretty hectic at my company, and people are asked to do overtime. There’s no talk of overtime pay; working overtime is just a periodic necessity in the workplace. Chinese workers don’t even complain about it much.
When I’m asked to work overtime, I make it very clear that I expect that time off in the future. I know I won’t get overtime pay, but I don’t work for free.
The worst is when the middle managers try to plead with you: “just this once. Everyone else has to do it too.” And then there’s the three characters you hear the most that burn more than any others: “辛苦了“. This phrase is meant to acknowledge your hard work and sacrifice, but the reality is that this three-character utterance is the only thanks you’ll get.
At one point I felt bad that, as a foreigner, I was treated differently. Why should I rarely be asked to do overtime when the Chinese workers have to do it regularly? I’m no better than them.
Later, I decided that it is my duty to demonstrate what it is to be a worker from the West. To demonstrate that we really do abide by contracts, that employee-employer responsibilities are not one-way, that employees have power, that time is money, and my time–not just the company’s–is valuable too.
Sadly, none of the Chinese workers could possibly follow my example. They could easily and immediately be replaced. As a foreigner with special skills, I’m in a unique position. I can insist that each and every term of my contract is adhered to. And I can provide an example to my Chinese co-workers that will hopefully leave an impression: this is how it should be.