Understanding the business culture of Singapore

Foreigners looking to set up a business and relocate to Singapore may be faced with unwritten social rules and work ethics that are local to the country. Understanding the business culture of the region can help in significantly moving your business to the next level and accustom yourself and your employees to the new work environment.

With a population of 5.6 million, Singapore is a multi-ethnic society comprising of Chinese, Malay, Indian and other minority communities. Keeping this in mind, it is advisable to remain observant and respectful of people coming from different religious and cultural backgrounds. Avoid having discussions that focus on issues of religions, politics, and race as these may make your business counterparts/colleagues uncomfortable.

The preferred lunch break time for most offices in Singapore usually is between 1-1.5 hours. Therefore, it is advisable not to schedule business meetings between noon and 2 pm to allow them sufficient time to complete their meals.

If you are looking to conduct a discussion over a meal, it is preferable to do so over lunch as business breakfasts are rare in Singapore. Greetings are often in the form of a light handshake or a nod of the head in acknowledgement. During business gatherings, the inviting party usually picks up the bill. The other party may reciprocate the next time round or may even present a gift/ thank you card as a token of gratitude.

Encouraging collective contributions and respect for people are much valued within the working culture of Singapore, just as they are valued in most far eastern nations especially in China, Japan and Korea. While large multinational corporations may have adopted part of the westernized work ethics, foreigners coming into the country and working with SME companies are more likely to experience an environment where collectivism is appreciated.

Most workplaces are hierarchy-based, with higher authorities respected by their subordinates. In such power-structured settings, it is recommended to avoid disagreeing with superiors in public. Disagreements are to be conveyed in closed settings and keeping in mind both personal integrity and the integrity of others in social interaction.

Singaporean culture value team effort and group bonding which take preference over induvial success and achievements. This collectivist culture is largely translated in terms of sharing rewards and accomplishments achieved as a team. The younger generation of Singaporeans are slowly moving away from this trait to adopt individualistic behaviour, but this practise is not yet widespread and may be

Working hours in Singapore is generally flexible, although this may differ from company to company. Usual hours range between 40-45 hours per week. Payment or leave in lieu of overtime work is not practiced by all companies in all industries. If over-time payment is applicable in your company, it is generally set at 1.5 times the basic hourly rate. Working on a normal off-day or a public holiday will usually attract a higher premium.

When it comes to following rules, Singapore is on the top.  Ethical integrity is greatly valued and following regulatory frameworks for business applies to all levels of activities. Punctuality and deadlines are taken seriously. Meetings and appointments are usually held without delay, so if you are going to unexpectedly late, it is courteous to inform the other party.

English is the working language of Singapore, while the official languages are Chinese, Malay and Tamil. There is a local vernacular, Singlish, which is a close blend of English interspersed with the local slang and dialects. Adopting Singlish in your everyday conversation with locals can help create a sense of camaraderie and encourage closer interaction and get people to know you better.

Singapore is home to many businesses of various sizes and different industries. Starting a business in the country not only opens new vistas for growth but also provides an opportunity to interact with unique set of peoples from diverse backgrounds. Learning the Singaporean way of life would be an enriching experience on a personal level in addition to adding value in making progress to your business ventures.    

All materials have been prepared for general information purposes only. The information presented in this document is not legal advice, is not to be acted on as such, may not be current and is subject to change without notice. Professional advisory should be sought before taking or refraining from any action as a result of the contents of this document.