To say that Filipinos take Christmas very seriously might be a massive understatement. Out of all the holidays in the year, the Christmas season might be both the biggest and most important one when it comes to the lives of Filipinos. That’s because Christmas in the Philippines is a season of being thankful for the year that has been and the closest opportunity to be with those they care out. So, how does Christmas in the Philippines look like?
We’re mostly familiar with how Christmas is celebrated in different parts of the world especially when December comes along. When talking about the Philippines however, their celebrations offer a unique look at their beliefs and culture and how it all ties into their everyday lives.
The Most Wonderful Time of the Year
Perhaps the most telling sign of how Christmas in the Philippines is celebrated differently is when the holiday season actually starts. You might think it starts in December like most countries or probably even late in November to get a head start on everyone else. These are good guesses but you’d be surprised to know that Christmas season in the Philippines has not only started already, but it began last September!
The Philippines is known for having the longest Christmas season in the world, which starts just when the “Ber” months (SeptemBER, OctoBER etc) roll in. By the first week of September, major shopping malls already begin to put up holiday themed decorations. This also coincides with announced sales for those looking to start early with holiday shopping. To top it off, Christmas songs are played to fit the new ambience (to the delight and dismay of shoppers).
Christmas is associated with many standard decorations known by everyone. Christmas trees, wreaths, ornaments and candy canes are just some of the things that come to mind for instance. The Philippines has no shortage of these as well, but also has very uniquely Filipino decorations they’re known for.
One decoration you’re likely to see in many Filipino homes is the “parol.” It is a traditional star-shaped lantern commonly made from bamboo that glows with a light inside. Their sizes often vary and presentation can range from simple to an elaborate light show of different colors. The parol is such a big part of Christmas in the Philippines that you can also see some made from different materials; from plastic, metal, wood, foil and even drinking straws or feathers!
A more elaborate décor you’ll see is the “belen.” Derived from the Spanish translation of “Bethlehem,” a belen is diorama that depicts the birth of Christ on Christmas day. Because the Philippines is also a deeply religious country, you can find belens in living rooms of most Filipino homes. Don’t be surprised however if you see life-sized versions if you pass by churches or government buildings.
Yearly Holiday Traditions
The religious influence on Philippine culture is also prevalent in their yearly traditions. The most known is “Simbang Gabi” or “night mass.” For nine days, devout Filipinos attend masses that start as early as 3:00 am. This is often followed by a small get together with local delicacies and coffee.
“Noche Buena” is also a tradition that every Filipino has grown up with. Taking place right after a Christmas Eve mass, Noche Buena is considered the biggest feast prepared in the year. Expenses aren’t spared and you can expect an array of traditional Filipino food prepared for family and friends. It wouldn’t be Christmas in the Philippines if you weren’t at the dinner table with relatives eating lechon or adobo.
The Significance of Christmas in the Philippines
Perhaps the biggest reason why the holiday season is very important in the Philippines is that it means spending time with family. The holidays are an extra important time especially for people working or living abroad who come home after spending nearly the entire year away from their families. While we often see people in movies or television who get invited to spend Christmas with friends, this notion is considered absurd to Filipinos, who see Christmas as a time that is exclusively celebrated with family. If you’ve ever wanted to know just how important family is to Filipinos, being in the country during the Christmas season would be the best time to see.
The Philippines is one of the fastest growing countries in the APAC region (well on its way to becoming Asia’s Fifth Tiger). The country offers an eclectic mix of culture, history and tradition infused with a Western influence. This is complemented by a friendly, welcoming population, unbelievable tourism and a stable, thriving economy.
Business Opportunities in Manila
Metro Manila is considered the home of opportunity in the Philippines. Both local and international companies have established themselves in Manila because of its superior infrastructure, availability of resources and access to skilled staff members. It has a reputation of being a thriving business hub. Many Filipinos know that working in Metro Manila provides them with the widest professional opportunities. It is also why many of those living in provinces travel to Manila to find better career opportunities.
The Thriving Expat Community
If you decide to visit the Philippines, don’t be surprised to see plenty of expats during your stay and enjoying themselves. Whether they are there for business or on vacation, many expats in the Philippines often never want to leave. Some even call it their second home! The Philippines it provides them a unique experience amidst the challenges that come with moving to a new country.
Diversify CEO Angela Vidler spent two months living in the Philippines and even though there were usual problems like traffic congestion and being out of a familiar comfort zone, it was an overall fulfilling experience where she was able to tackle challenges head on and learn much about herself.
Our Marketing Manager Mark Evans also recently stayed with us when he first commenced with the business. Over a one week period, he was able to experience day to day life within Metro Manila. He was amazed at how busy and vibrant the CBD was and found it incredibly safe. He regularly walked around at night looking for a new place to have dinner.
Recently, we held a launch party for our brand new office in Bonifacio Global City. Many of our clients, business partners and directors of Diversify were invited to open our new facility. They were also taken on a tour of the city and experienced the Philippines first hand. Metro Manila is currently experiencing a development boom and is now considered a safe and strategically viable place to do business!
I invite you to check out our new corporate video which showcases both Bonifacio Global City and our exciting new office. It also focuses on our employees’ day at the office and what it’s like working in Metro Manila.
In recent years, there has been a push from the Government to promote tourism in the Philippines. The aim is to get both locals and visitors to visit other locations in the country. The tourism department’s slogan of “It’s more fun in the Philippines” certainly encourages a sense of exploration for anyone in the country. Whether for business or recreational purposes, there will always be something to discover and admire wherever you are in the Philippines.
Working in the Philippines
I am lucky enough to work at our new office in Bonifacio Global City. It’s a great place to come in to each day because of the new and innovative workspace. Most of all, I get to work with some awesome people on a day-to-day basis. Our location gives us access to great restaurants, cafes and entertainment precincts which are important in my work/life balance.
We’re also well serviced by a seamless public transport system. Although the traffic can be a bit troublesome, I get home to my family safe and sound every night! The Philippines is a great place to work in and I’m proud to call it home. Many clients that have visited our new facility have been amazed at the bustling city it is located within. Many have even said it reminds them of some of the larger Australian cities. With the huge level of development underway, BGC will only get better as my work destination.
Safety Comes First
All visitors to the country must be mindful that the Philippines is a developing country. As such, being vigilant and taking safety measures is always important. As with any country, there are areas that visitors should not visit – those most commonly impacted by crime mainly in regional and provincial locations that are affected by crime.
You may see much in the press about the Philippines and security. But I can assure you, as a Filipino, the country is incredibly safe and accessible. Areas like Metro Manila are as safe as any first world city. It has all of the infrastructure and technology required to take your business to new heights. Although it is on a rapid path to being a more prosperous country, it is still developing.
Overall, the Philippines is an wonderful country that is as rich and diverse as its culture. Filipino hospitality and kindness are second to none, and you will feel immediately welcome even as a first time visitor. By knowing particular aspects of the country and certain cultural intricacies that are distinctly Filipino, you will gain a better understanding of who we are and what make us great to engage with!
If you’re ready to begin your offshoring strategy with a high performing team in the Philippines, Diversify can help you get started. Drop us a line today to see if you are ready to take on this new challenge.
Different cultures place different value on the importance of family in driving their behaviour. In regards to Filipino and Western ideals, the difference is substantial. It is important to acknowledge the cultural norms, in both how Westerners deal with family, as well as the Filipino value system. Understanding this properly will shape how you interact with your offshore workforce in a positive manner.
Family at the heart of personal development
It is well established that a person’s values and ideals drive their actions, behaviour and demeanour. An individual’s closest relationships are often formed form birth and then honed over many years of interaction, collaboration and emotional and psychological development. In a Western environment, it can be said that as an individual grows and develop focus is placed heavily on promoting independence and separation from the family unit. This growth and focus on ‘leaving the nest’ is often signified with children maturing, moving out and severing any financial dependence on their parents. On the other hand, this move to independence also means that offspring are not compelled to support or provide any assistance to their family. This may of course change as family members start to age and require assistance, whether it is slight financial support or a move into a facility.
The above is the complete antithesis to how Filipino’s deal with their family unit. It really is a “unit” as throughout the lifecycle, a family stays completely together. Their complete and utter commitment to their family is at a different stratosphere. In order to articulate it in a simple way, it can be said that the Filipinos embrace and encourage a more centralised approach to family conversely as a Western family matures it becomes far more fragmented, with individuals moving out and severing any links of dependence.
Family above all else
More often than not, family will always be the highest priority to Filipinos. Gatherings are large and loud, including up to 30 people all at once! As mentioned earlier, Filipinos deal with the transition to adulthood in a completely different fashion, whereby Western parents raise their offspring to leave the nest as soon as possible (usually 18) as young Filipinos transition into adults and turn 18, they aren’t expected (forced) to move out and live on their own. They are raised and encouraged to continue to contribute and play an active part in a highly centralised family unit. Consequently, the idea of putting elderly parents in a home or with an external care provider is considered an absurd concept and often frowned upon. As a result of this fierce loyalty and dedication exhibited in regards to the family unit, many Filipinos centre their work efforts and professional development as a means to provide for their families, especially those family members who had to migrate from the provinces and settle in Metro Manila or abroad. Despite inconveniences to them many Filipinos are often willing to go the extra mile if it means being able to provide for their families, even marginally.
Treating everyone like family. Literally
The importance of family is also very prevalent in the everyday language used by Filipinos; this is usually to the point that it’s almost unnoticeable for them. While we would normally use “sir” and “madam” to refer to people we don’t know informally, Filipinos occasionally use “kuya” and “ate” – meaning “older brother” and “older sister” in Filipino – to address them. These can be, but not limited to, their taxi driver, their local barista or even a stranger on the street they want to get the attention of. When amongst people they know personally, Filipinos use “tito” and “tita” when addressing the parents of their friends, and this translates to “uncle” and “aunt.” It may seem unusual for foreigners to hear them refer to people outside of their family as one of their own, but this is second nature to all Filipinos and shows just how deeply rooted familial bonds are in their culture.
Staff should feel like they belong to an extended family
By understanding the importance of family to your Filipino workforce, you will begin to understand an critical facet of Filipino culture and how to properly approach it when it comes to engaging with your staff based in the Philippines. Too often do we hear stories of great employees leaving their companies because of other staff being inconsiderate or unaware of particular cultural differences. When people feel like they don’t belong or are in a closed, unwelcoming and hostile environment, they are more likely to quit rather than stay on for as long as they can. For those that do choose to stick it out, doing so would take a toll on their well-being and can lead more damaging effects.
We’ve discussed how a culture of engagement and belonging in your workplace can help keep staff motivated and driven and in the Filipino context, this can be done by creating an office culture that feels like their second home. By creating an atmosphere that feels like they belong and allowing for proper balance with work-life integration, you will have staff that will stay continuously productive, work to the best of their abilities and remain loyal to you, just like they would with their real families.
So you have low-level legal process work that you need completed, but with clients demanding more for less, you’re finding it uneconomical to have your junior lawyers do the tasks. What is the solution? One solution lies in the use of offshore Filipino lawyers.
Tell me about Filipino lawyers
The Philippines was a colony of the USA for 15 years and as a result, its education systems and universities are based on those in the US. The Philippines’ law degree is therefore quite similar to an American law degree. Students have to complete an undergraduate degree before being eligible to commence their law degree and once they obtain their degree, they need to sit in the bar exam. Failure rates for the bar exam are very high and in a typical year, only 20% to 25% of students will pass.
There are 105 law schools in the Philippines, with the quality of graduates bearing dramatically between them. There are more than 5,000 graduates from these combined law schools each year.
How good is their English?
Law in the Philippines is taught in English and therefore, the quality of both written and spoken English is very good. In addition, English is spoken in the Philippines generally by 94% of the population and in some areas is the primary language.
What are their salaries?
A fresh graduate who has passed the bar exam, depending upon their results and which school they have graduated from, will typically be paid between $750 and $1,000 per month. A graduate who either has not sat or passed the bar exam will cost in the order of $500 to $750 per month.
Senior lawyers with five or more years’ experience are likely to cost between $2,000 and $2,750 per month.
What is the quality of work?
As is the case anywhere, the quality of the work performed by a particular person will very much depend upon their level of training, experience and ability. With the right education, the right attitude and the right training, Filipino lawyers have the ability to perform high-quality legal work.
Can I hold them out as a lawyer in Australia?
No – the Philippines’ law degree is not recognised in Australia and as such, you cannot hold out a Filipino lawyer as a lawyer in Australia. They can, however, work as a paralegal or a law clerk.
We are currently establishing partnerships with a number of the Philippines’ leading law schools to provide us with ongoing access to high-quality Filipino law school graduates.
So you have embarked on the offshoring/outsourcing path and have engaged staff to work for you in the Philippines. It is now important to consider the likely difficulties that you may encounter when collaborating with your Filipino staff and how you will manage them.
The biggest issues you are likely to face with your Filipino staff are cultural ones. What is normal and usual for us in Australia is not always necessarily normal and usual for people from other countries and this certainly applies in the Philippines. One of the biggest cultural differences between Australians and the Filipinos is the Asian concept of “saving face.”
Australians, generally, are a fairly direct lot; we like to give feedback immediately and not to beat about the bush when providing it. This can create a dynamic which can lead to embarrassment of your Filipino staff members. Filipinos, as with most other Asian nations, embrace the concept of “face” and reputation. This means it is very important not to directly embarrass a Filipino staff member and it is particularly important not to embarrass them in front of their work colleagues. The concept of saving face can also lead to unusual outcomes, such as the staff indicating that they can do jobs which are in fact beyond their ability. This occurs as they don’t want to be embarrassed by admitting they do not know how to do a particular job.
So how do you deal with this issue?
The first thing you should be aware of is that any message you deliver only needs to be subtle to be effective. If you are dealing with issues relating to performance, ensure that those issues are dealt with confidentially. Here, the use of video conferencing is also essentially important. If you are attempting to deal with performance management issues via email or over the telephone, the entire context and tone can be lost and you can quickly find yourself offending your staff without any conscious intention. Video conferencing allows you to monitor and visually assess the reaction of your staff as you are delivering your message and adjust the tone or strength of the message accordingly. Likewise, video conferencing can assist greatly when you have provided instructions and wish to confirm that the staff member understands what you are asking them to do and that they also have the skills to do it. Whereas if you try to issue instructions over a telephone call, you may hear “yes, I can do that,” while over a video conference call you might see body language indicating that they require further assistance or guidance to complete the task assigned to them.
Another example of a notable cultural difference relates to punctuality. Punctuality in the Philippine business environment is an unusual concept. Traffic in Manila can be horrendously bad and can often lead to people being late for meetings without any fault on their part. As a result, a culture has developed where it’s very acceptable to be 15 to 30 minutes late for any given appointment. This is often used as justification for lateness generally and has developed to the point where being late for meetings and even work is quite acceptable.
Rather than fighting this, sometimes it is better to go with the flow. Schedule meeting times earlier than you actually require (when people are traveling to be at the meeting) to ensure that they proceed on time. Where this issue relates to staff punctuality for work, allow staff members a grace period at the start of work and if they arrive late, allow them to make up that time at the end of the day (which they are usually very happy to do).
These are some of the larger examples of the cultural differences you may face with your offshore or outsourced Filipino workforce, although there are also many smaller ones. There are no shortcuts when it relates to understanding culture. You need to invest the time to learn as much as possible about the environment in which your staff works in and their cultural norms. Likewise, it is important that your offshoring service provider assists with training your staff upon the nuances of the Australian culture. This includes educating the offshore staff and their employers so there can often be compromises which will assist in a smooth ongoing working relationship.
Often, when businesses first consider using an offshore workforce, their primary driver is the considerable savings on labour costs. Whilst there is little argument that this is a significant benefit, an often overlooked additional benefit is the staff loyalty and high staff retention rates which can be achieved with Filipino staff.
Understanding Cultural Differences
Though there are many similarities between Australians and Filipinos, such as their shared love of American culture, western systems of government/education and use of the English language, there are also many cultural differences. One of the biggest differences is the level of importance and degree of influence of family. There is no doubt that in Filipino society, family comes before all else, including work. One example of this is the difference between how we treat our aging family members. In Australia, both aged care facilities and retirement villages are big business. In the Philippines however, the concepts hardly even exist – ageing family members are simply looked after at home by the younger family members. We might think that family is important to us, and no question it is, but Filipinos take this to a whole new level.
It is also common for Filipinos to treat their work colleagues as a second family and value these work relationships almost as importantly as they value relationships with their actual family. This can have both positive and negative repercussions for prospective employers.
On the negative side, when dealing with staff, it is very important to be mindful of the very close relationships that may have developed between co- workers. If you don’t treat a staff member fairly, you may find the consequences extend well beyond that person and impact the morale of your whole team. Likewise, whilst it might be tempting to try out new staff on the basis that if it doesn’t work out you can let them go during their probation period, the indirect consequence of this might be that you also lose staff that you want to keep! When dealing with performance management issues, you also need to be careful and considered in your approach. It isn’t that you can’t deal with under-performance or, if necessary, let someone go. It is just that you need to do it in a carefully considered way to ensure that it is understood and perceived as being fair.
Conversely, if you are prepared to properly engage with your staff by understanding and treating them well, it is possible to develop a culture where there is both high levels of productivity and loyalty by all staff, both to each other and the business. It is, however, not an easy thing to achieve and maintain. It requires a careful balance between maintaining ongoing performance while also avoiding unnecessary or unduly harsh criticisms or disciplinary action.
If you can create a culture among your employees where they truly feel that your workplace is their second family and that they are an indispensable part of it, you will likely have employees who will ride through the tough times with you and stay by your side in circumstances where equivalent Australian employees would have long since left.
The cost, both direct and indirect, of staff turnover is very significant and the benefits which will flow from good staff retention and loyalty are substantial. Unfortunately these days, in Australia, high staff turnover, particularly amongst younger staff, is a fact of life. No more is the norm a “job for life” but it is instead far more common to see staff changing jobs every two years or so often for no reason other than a simple change of scenery.
The opportunity to employ staff in the Philippines who will both assist with the development of the business and, if engaged properly, stay in the long term is a significant benefit often overlooked by employers when considering offshoring.
To somebody who has never met, seen or interacted with a Filipino or has never visited the Philippines, understanding the complexity of the Filipino culture can take time. Unlocking its mystery is a bit like heading into the jungle without a good map – you are likely to get lost. Take the time and effort though to understand and appreciate Filipino culture and mindset and you are likely to find it very rewarding both for your business and for you personally as well.
The Filipino Blood
Chinese, Malay and Spanish are just a few of the races that run in the veins of every Filipino. In addition, the Americans have had a significant influence with the Philippines being an American colony for 50 years. This contrasting blend of cultures has shaped the unique Filipino attributes.
Filipinos are fun-loving individuals who have a passion for festivals and an obsession with singing and dancing. Filipino culture is very family-oriented, and has made people have relaxed attitudes. Although they may not enjoy the extent of material wealth that many western countries have, in many ways they are richer through their tightly knit social and family structures.
The Philippines is a matriarchal society where women are greatly empowered. Both in the family and at work, the female influence is significant with women holding senior roles all through business and in government. Many of successful Filipino businesses are owned and run by women.
The Philippines is the largest Christian nation in Asia and they take their religion very seriously. Most Filipinos attend a service weekly with the church usually being the backbone of any local community. It is very common for people to have all of their family and friends in the same church and it is important to be mindful of the loyalty this creates when dealing with Filipino staff.
The Philippines is a country of more than 80 tribes each with their own local dialect. English is taught in all schools and is commonly used as the preferred method of communication for people with different dialects. Although Filipinos are separated by islands, their strong cultural ties remain and they have a very strong family and community support system.
Striking up a conversation
Having a conversation with Filipinos is easy enough as they usually speak English to a reasonable standard. They are very approachable, outgoing in nature and would comfortably strike up a conversation with a total stranger.
They like talking about their families, local foods and all things American (movies, sports etc). Filipinos are enthusiastic conversationalists who have no problem asking personal questions such as your age, marital status and the like. They are however very reluctant to discuss matters of politics, terrorism or anything else that might cause them to be embarrassed as this is a big no-no for Filipino culture.
Respect and Modesty
Social inequalities are common in the country even though Filipinos generally believe that everyone should be treated in the same way. Filipinos are always compassionate with their less fortunate kababayan (countrymen). Regardless of status, everyone is expected to act at all times with humility and courtesy and respect.
As something that is distinctly part of Filipino culture, it is customary for Filipinos to address their superiors or elders as Sir or Ma’am. Additionally, you will occasionally hear them use the expression “ho” or “po” when they talk – this is a way of showing respect (e.g. thank you ho/po.)
Filipinos love their titles and take pride in their accomplishments, be them academic or otherwise. You will regularly see their titles used before their names in written communications (Dr. for doctor, Atty. for attorney, etc) and it is even common for them to be addressed using these titles in daily conversation.
Upon introduction and on subsequent meetings with people, shaking hands firmly is expected. Female friends, on the other hand, greet each other with hugs and kisses. Touching is very common between Filipinos but Westerners need to be very careful with cross-gender contact as this may cause offence.
One family and community
Filipinos are communal and love to share what they have – particularly food! This is why it is common in most restaurants to see “family meals” which are just as likely to be shared by co-workers. Strangely enough, if you are eating with Filipinos, you will likely notice that nobody wants to eat the last bite on the plate!
Filipinos have a very structured way of life and compared to westerners, they are not as assertive or independent. This is in part because of the extensive influence of family. Filipino children, no matter how old, are likely to significantly influenced, directed and guided by their parents.
Another dominant behavior of Filipinos is “utang na loob” or debt of gratitude. If you do something good for a Filipino, they will usually return the favor. It can be important to remember this with Filipino staff because if you treat and reward them in the right way, they will probably stay with you for a long time.
Filipinos often don’t leave home until they are ready to be married and even then, it is still usually devastating for the parents. Filipinos generally believe they are significantly indebted to their parents for raising them and placing them in aged care facilities is unheard of. It is normal for children to care for their parents as they age.
Business and Professionalism
Filipinos are notorious for their lack of punctuality. Whether this is as a result of the horrendous and unpredictable traffic is debatable but unfortunately it is a reality. Regardless, Filipinos are in fact very reliable workers. It sometimes can be better to go with the flow and adopt the Filipino practice of “flexi-time” (which essentially means staff who arrive late simply work back to make up the time) rather than fight the daily punctuality battle.
Display of emotion and saving face
Filipino culture can be very emotional at times and occasionally, Filipinos may take things too seriously. While public displays of affection are common and acceptable, being rude or aggressive is not and Australians’ direct style of conversation can sometimes come across the wrong way.
Filipinos don’t like being confrontational. If there are problems particularly in the workplace, it is best to resolve them behind closed doors. As with the rest of Asia, the concept of saving of face is very important to the Filipinos. It is very important not to criticize or reprimand Filipino staff in front of their peers. Filipinos are generally very patient and tolerant but do not push them too far or you will make a permanent and vocal enemy.
It is, however, good to praise Filipinos in public as this increases their social standing and will likely mean they will do more good work in return. Filipinos thrive on recognition. The act of giving them a pat on the back for a job well-done fuels them to carry on with executing a job well done.
Diversify is proud to call the Philippines its home in Asia and the people we have onboard are nothing short of hardworking and engaging. It’s this aspect of Filipino culture that we admire most and one of the reasons we continue to work closely with them. If you want to have some of the best people onboard for your offshoring team, drop us a line today.