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Home » Podcast » Angela McDonald – Cultural Differences in Work and Lifestyle in the Philippines

Angela McDonald – Cultural Differences in Work and Lifestyle in the Philippines

Ep 015 Angela McDonald
Ep 015 Angela McDonald

Today, Derek and Angela will talk about work culture and generally the culture of Philippines and Filipinos, and how it differs from the west.


  • One of the things Angela found hard to get used to from the start was the “Ma’am and Sir thing”. It’s in the nature of Filipinos, it’s the way they were brought up. Anyone in a higher position or older would always be respected with a Ma’am or Sir.
  • The Philippines has a softer culture, when you are handling people from the West, people can be a lot more direct, even if you are disciplining someone. However, here, it is a very different approach, you wouldn’t shout at someone in public or embarrass them in public.
  • A lot of potential employees in the Philippines market their contract and take it to their family to review because, for Filipinos, it’s a family decision wherein they take jobs because it has an impact on their families.
  • Filipinos are Facebook crazy. Facebook is useful from a recruitment standpoint.
  • The bureaucracy in the Philippines is phenomenal. According to Angela; the biggest headache and challenge she had in the nine years of being here, are the paperwork, the rules, and regulations. Whereas in other countries everything can be applied online. Unlike here, you’re gonna be submitting a lot of documents and investing time.

Key Points

  • Sometimes Filipinos’ sense of subservience can hamper how they approach and communicate with clients or prospective clients.
  • Business owners have to be very careful when Filipinos agree all the time because Filipinos normally aim to please and saying no is frowned upon.
  • The concept of family has a huge impact on the culture of Filipinos.



Derek: Hi, welcome back to the outsource accelerator podcast, my name is Derek Gallimore. And today, we talk to Angela McDonald again, she is back. Angel is a Scottish lass, who has been in the Philippines for a long, long time, over eight, nine years now, I think, and she is currently working on the operations of Deployed, which is a New Zealand and Australia facing BPO.

Prior to that, Angela worked in recruitment in the Philippines, so, she knows a lot about the work culture over here in the Philippines. And we discuss it today. So, today, we are talking about work culture and generally the culture of Philippines and Filipinos, and how it differs to the west, in inverted commas, and how it’s similar. And then we will also briefly touch on outsourcing.

So, there is a lot of really valuable information here, whether you have staffing here or whether you are thinking about getting staffing here, or maybe even if you just want a holiday here. So, enjoy the podcast.

If you want any information on this podcast, if you wanna get in touch with Angela or Deployed, then go to our show notes, that is at outsourceaccelerator.com/podcast/episode15. Enjoy.

Derek: Okay. Angela, welcome back.

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Angela: Hi Derek.

Derek: Good to have you. Today, we are gonna talk about the cultural differences of the Philippines and the impact that it has on managing people and getting them on board and doing the work that you want and keeping them happy and retaining them.

It is, I think, very important to note that it is a different culture over here and it takes an appreciation of that to get the best out of your people here; doesn’t it? And like any employee, you have got to get them on board and you have got to get them believe in your mission, otherwise, it’s a lost game.

So, you obviously have incredible experience on this, on many levels but specifically, working through recruitment and now with Deployed BPO, I just wanna get your views on this. So, I suppose we can start with the culture generally; how is it different and what sticks out for you?

Angela: Well, the culture is very friendly, people are really nice, they love to sing and dance. Obviously, as everybody knows, Philippines does get hit list of negative press about things that they have got, such strength to just get up and get on with that, and acceptance. If you are over, don’t be surprised to be dragged to a karaoke bar, and you will probably be on YouTube.

One of the things I found hard to get used to at the start was the Ma’am and Sir thing which you have probably come across over time, Sir Derek, or Ma’am Angela, or whatever. It’s just in their nature, it’s the way they are brought up, for anyone who would be in a higher position or older, you would always be respected with a Ma’am or Sir. So, that’s one of the things you will try to…

Derek: Because in summary, it’s just a very insignificant point. In some ways it’s very significant point. They are a very traditional culture and it’s quite endearing should you come here and it’s almost like they have retained a lot of traditions and cultures of the good old days. Specifically, being respectful to seniors and elders and things like this. But where I think it might fall down is, there is almost this sense of, can I say, subservience of the Filipinos to the western world, I don’t know if that’s too harsh.

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And where it can have an impact is we really want them to feel equal.

Angela: Absolutely.

Derek: And also if there is a customer service role, then sometimes their sense of subservience can hamper how they approach and communicate with clients or prospective clients; what are your thoughts on that?

Angela: Yeah. Couldn’t agree more, I think it should be important regardless who they are speaking to that they can on their own. I sometimes feel it depend on what job they are doing; it can put them at a disadvantage because you are not getting any mutual respect back. It’s completely dependent on the role that you are in.

So, it’s all nice, and it’s polite, and you feel important, and everything but you could be as polite and respectful as anything but if you are trying to close a deal and you are sending out proposals with Sir or Ma’am, respectfully, may I do this and you are giving that subservient feeling, the client or prospect is not really gonna put it to the top of their list.

Here, it doesn’t happen in this office, I am called Angela.

Derek: I think it’s really a key thing to breakthrough them, isn’t it, we are equals and empower them and sort of bring them… It’s still like within any workplaces of hierarchy, and there is whatever, management and trainees but it needs to be a case of equals, and also with the clients as well.

And I suppose to use examples, it’s kind of a hard job to get the Filipinos to be debt collectors, for example, because if they make a call and they have to be a little bit graft, then they are really gonna struggle to hit home.

Angela: They are a softer culture, and that, you know, obviously, when you are handling people in our culture, we can be a lot more direct, even if you are disciplining someone, you could say hello that was rubbish step up, or whatever, here, it is a very different approach. So, they have a thing called shame here; have you heard of that before, Derek?

Derek: Yeah.

Angela: So, basically you wouldn’t discipline someone in public or you wouldn’t really shout at someone, it creates that bad shame feeling, embarrassment in front of their peers, it can have a really negative impact on your relationship.

Derek: So, they need to say save face and if there is any reprimand you are gonna make sure it’s done privately and with full respect to them and the process as well.

Angela: Absolutely, and if possible try and finish with something positive if it is possible. I mean, I think when I am disciplining and I speak about the issues and everything, I do always share the stuff that I have enjoyed or like with them, so that they feel a little bit of that confidence, look I have got faith in you but we can’t have that. And it’s a “we”, it’s not, an “I” can’t have that, and then I seem to get that by and…

Derek: There is quite… They are very gentle and I think they expect to be treated very gently back. And then if you understand that you can get on their wavelength, then you can get great results from them.

But also, they have phenomenal respect generally for seniors, whether it’s senior management, they also then because of the foreigner or westerner kind of thing, there is a big respect barrier there. And I think if you break that respect by the shaming or by improperly treating them, it can really backfire pretty quickly.

Angela: Yeah. But you wouldn’t stand for it at home to have somebody treats you disrespectfully, you wouldn’t have any of it, but here the tendency is that there would be silence and then the relationship is broken. Whereas, maybe back home we might fight back, a little bit, they will say something and it would be over and done with once you are very clear there but it’s not like that here.

Derek: On that silence thing, you have to be careful about them also, you know, and this is obviously generalizing but you have to be careful for them always agreeing because they are seeking to please.

Angela: Absolutely.

Derek: And you have to really dig deep, not to compromise your challenge them but to make sure they do understand, to make sure that they know what you want them to do, because they are so eager to please that they will say, yes, I will do this, I am doing it already. And actually, they just don’t know how to approach you on an equals basis and say, look, I don’t know how to do this or I won’t have time for this right now; is that right?

Angela: Yeah. Nobody likes to say no, because they do want to please, or the old school companies here, if you said no it was really frowned upon, so again, that’s the culture thing. With my team in Deployed, I am very specific and clear, so, I try not to… Especially with your accent and the speed that you are talking at, they might not pick up everything in one go or the sarcasm that might come out which is a joke when you are talking.

So, when I am being specific giving directions, I ask them to clarify back to me, not in a disrespectful way, like, you don’t understand say it back. Okay so, what are we gonna do and they will repeat back to me or I will maybe say as a recap, can you just send me some bullet points of what we have discussed, if there is anything there that you don’t understand, pop in there and we’ll have a catch up.

Derek: I guess the significant point is because a lot of bosses and entrepreneurs as well, they could be quite guilty of just throwing an order at someone or saying do this please, and not fully going through the process, not fully explaining the process. And it can really be owners’ own, the boss, to actually get the process clear, have clarity on the process and then make sure the person that’s gonna carry it out understands it.

Angela: That’s right. And that they can get feedback or questions, so, not through over there, you go and then disappear off the face of the earth.

Derek: And so, they are very process driven here, so, as much of the processes you can create, that is appreciated and they would follow it to the teeth, incredible so detailed and fastidious people, but it is about being clear. And especially, when they are new or you are just starting out here and the relationship is starting, then really important to be very clear.

And so, family is a massive thing in the Philippines; what are your…?

Angela: It’s completely different to my background, I will tell you that. Basically, the family stay together a lot longer than we would back home. It’s not unusual to come across a family of eight people in your employee.

Derek: And multi-generational as well.

Angela: Yeah. And your employee being the sole earner for that family, I think it’s really important unfairly that you kind of have to get the families buy in now, from a retention point from people.

Derek: Because here, a lot of potential employees, they market the contract and then they take it to their family to review because it’s a family decision where they are like take this job because it has an impact on the family and…

Angela: Yeah. So, the family would be looking, would you eventually be getting health insurance for dependence, what money they would get, because the family could try and put pressure on them that X is paying you this but Y is gonna give you a thousand pesos more a month, but that’s the way they think of it. So, as much as you can do in terms of benefits or the health insurance, or vacation leaves, or convertible cash benefits that can be used at the end of the year, really do get the family buy in.

Derek: And that’s a significant point because the guys here, they have a different relationship to money and rewards, because the rewards, if you buy them McDonalds for lunch or pizza, then they obviously directly get to enjoy that and work parties with their colleagues, they directly enjoy that. Whereas money, if you give them a salary increase or bonus, typically in nine times out of ten, the money goes straight back to the family, so, it is less direct..

Angela: That’s right.

Derek: I have heard of stories as well where there is quite a lot of almost poor cooperative type villages, where there is not just one family but there might be an aggregation of about six families living in a village, and they all pool the income and then distribute it, so, there might be three generations and there are six families, there is a lot of people. What would the workers… Put their salaries in and it’s divided back out, in a complex, social…

Angela: Yeah, real community thing. I don’t know how they manage, I really don’t, and it’s kind of sad because the employees have worked incredibly hard to get their degrees and they are still working for a much lower rate and they are not getting… You know, when I think about that age, I was in my first flat, I had my own car, and these guys are still at home sharing their room with maybe another four other brothers and sisters. Not everybody, but it’s not uncommon.

Derek: And very quickly as well, they can often be the, as you said that they are the one supporting the entire family, so, that’s a huge responsibility, it can be very very early

Are there any other information on maybe culturally that really may be stick out?

Angela: Facebook. I think they are Facebook crazy.

Derek: Actually that’s true, isn’t it? Manila is known as the selfie capital of the world.

Angela: I know, right, and I have never seen anything like it.

Derek: How does that affect the workplace; can you use Facebook as a positive tool or is it only a hindrance and do you generally allow the use of Facebook in the office?

Angela: Well, we use Facebook for recruitment purposes, it’s a really good recruitment tool, there are so many community groups that you can get involved with, so, if you are looking for a techie position, you would be involved in the tech community, Facebook groups that in Manila you have got a job, or events that they might be going to.

I don’t think it’s a business tool, as in lead generation, Facebook is the way to do it, but it’s really good, I think from recruitment. And you can monitor what’s going on and what’s going on and what events are coming on.

Derek: Are people generally allowed to use Facebook in the workplace?

Angela: I let them have a thirty-minute free browse on their lunch hour, as long as there is no issues with the internet, otherwise it’s work specific. So obviously, when we may have digital marketing companies in here and, you know, my own team that have to be on the different social media platforms trying things out or maybe they are posting blogs or whatever.

So, if it’s work related, it’s different but if it’s just for their own social presence, a thirty-minute fair use is what they get. I am nice, right, I am nice.

Derek: That’s amazing. And then finally, you know, this is a developing country, it’s living in an incredible place but there is a certain amount of bureaucracy that goes with this place, things are highly bureaucratic, there is a lot of paperwork, things can be a little bit slower; how does that have an impact culturally and in reference to them, your employee?

Angela: Yeah. It’s definitely something that is gonna try your patience, there is an unbelievable amount of paperwork which is another reason why it’s good to use someone like a BPO because we go and run, and do that all, and do all the government administration but Visas, business registrations, even to shopping a landmark where you buy one thing and paper or slips have got to be filled out.

Derek: It’s a really significant point; isn’t it. And it can’t be overlooked, the bureaucracy here really is phenomenal. And you can avoid it, you can avoid it by, again, going to something like Upwork where they really kind of scout around the system. But then you can come to a BPO where effectively within your fee that shelters you from all of the bureaucracy within the system, yet, you still have to play by the rules, you obviously still have to go through the proper labor processes, that’s an incredible value add for BPO; isn’t it?

Angela: Absolutely. I mean, it’s the biggest headache and challenge I have had in the nine years of being here, those paper work and, rules and regulations. Whereas, back in your home country you could probably apply for everything online, it’s just not like here, you are down, you are gonna be hanging around, you are gonna be submitting documents, it’s really not gonna be a pleasant experience.

Derek: Yeah. And there is a phenomenal value out there from BPOs because you as a business owner, you want to come over here, you wanna do your business here, you don’t wanna caught up in the bureaucracy, in the paperwork of the back-end operation of the business.

I certainly recommend come here, I certainly recommend get staffing here, I think it’s the way of the future but a lot of entrepreneurs want to venture out and incorporate and get their own offices. It’s really not a great idea until you have a certain scale, until you know the country well. And BPOs are incredible stepping stones and…

Angela: Yeah. I think they are almost like an incubator for the first couple of years till you get your confidence up. You know, obviously, build good relationships with your team. But you got to make sure, I mean, it’s really easy to get bad advice when you start moving to going independent and setting up your own incorporation, you know, it definitely finds good business support for that and expect to be shelling out fair amount of money.

Derek: And time as well.

Angela: Time is the biggest thing, it’s just very frustrating.

Derek: So, BPO is the way to go. Thank you Ang.

Angela: Thank you Derek.

Derek: Thanks

Angela: Nice speaking to you.

Derek: Okay. I hope you enjoyed that episode with Angela McDonald of Deployed. If you wanna get in touch with Angela or Deployed, then, go to our show notes. if you want transcripts for this, go to our show notes, you can find our show notes at outsourceaccelerator.com/podcast/episode15. See you next time.

Listen to more podcast episodes here:

  1. Brett Russo – Inception of Outsource Workers
  2. Top Ten Roles Outsourced to the Philippines
  3. Kris Buckham – High Touch, High Value Outsourcing Service

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About Derek Gallimore

Derek Gallimore has been in business for 20 years, outsourcing for over eight years, and has been living in Manila (the heart of global outsourcing) since 2014. Derek is the founder and CEO of Outsource Accelerator, and is regarded as a leading expert on all things outsourcing.

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