Always a first time for everything

For most of my working life, whether I was in small companies or big ones, in Taipei or Beijing, I’ve had the good fortune of working with people who I got along well with, respected, and befriended. Since this happened regularly, I considered it normal to have pleasant work experiences. I have had a lot of great Taiwanese, Chinese mainlander, Western (English, Scottish, Welsh, Australian, Canadian, American etc), and Asian (Singaporean, Indian, Korean etc) colleagues. You might notice a certain omission on this list so please read on.

Sadly, this good colleagues “streak” came to an end in my last job, which I left recently. Now, this wasn’t the main reason I left (that would be issues concerning the work role and responsibilities so I won’t touch on that here), but it was a major factor. Because it’s just not good when you work with people who don’t respect you and vice versa. What bothers me is that I have no idea what was the cause of this problem with my colleagues, which went on for over a year up to the very end of my time there. I never had any disputes with anybody, never undercut anybody, and never disrespected people, whether my peers or juniors.

From the start, there were a few people who didn’t like me for some reason. They so disliked me that they became fixated on me. What started as petty gossip from these people, from my own team, about me became more vicious and blatant. They also did things like search for me online, including finding this blog and talk about things I’d written (and not in a good way). Even worse, they also spread their gossip about me to other colleagues. I tried to stay professional and remained polite with people, including the very ones who started this, but this still went on. During a very hectic period earlier this year where I had to handle several tough projects simultaneously, I decided to limit myself to perfunctory greetings (some not even) with most colleagues and ceased attending certain voluntary office events, which made some people realize that I was aware of what was going on. Instead of letting things dying down or deciding to repair the situation like adults, my colleagues aggravated the situation even more. And that’s when I really lost a lot of respect for some people and started wondering about whether I really wanted to work with them. During this time, I also had to deal with a lot of complications in handling the aforementioned projects, and this reaction (not the original gossiping, but the fact they escalated it) helped convince me to make my decision.

I don’t regret it. Truth is despite what you may have heard about Hong Kong, I’ve never been in a workplace where so many colleagues spent so much time hanging out and gossiping during office hours. It’s not like I’ve never chatted or joked with coworkers at my previous jobs, but not to the extent where we were doing it all the time and disrupting others in the middle of the day. I’ve also never been in a workplace where young people, specifically those in my team, were the ones gossiping so much (maybe this is a Hong Kong thing). In the end, I was more disappointed than angry at them.

I was a little at fault for trying to tolerate this for so long and not taking steps to resolve this situation like directly speaking to some of the people involved. I’ve never been good at confronting people and especially not at work. Also, in general, I believed that people usually behave with decency and hoped that my colleagues would act like adults in the end. But, as with many aspects of life, problems never go away if you just ignore them and refuse to deal with them. Sometimes you need to either confront or call out people for their bullshit. Of course, if the job was worth keeping and staying on, I would have tried doing this.

In the end, I’m not sure if what I experienced was normal in Hong Kong workplaces or if it was that I had some particularly devious and negative colleagues. Either way, whenever any Hong Konger boasts about how hardworking Hong Kongers are, I have a great comeback.


10 thoughts on “Always a first time for everything

  1. Sorry to hear that, guess anywhere can have it’s share of unprofessionalism and pettiness and Hong Kong isn’t always all it’s cracked up to be…

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  2. What a bummer! I can imagine how difficult it was having to see those people every day!
    Coincidentally, a friend of mine also had a bad experience with colleagues in Hong Kong. She thought it was because she is a foreigner.

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    1. It was very difficult and just so different from my previous experiences. I feel a lot of Hong Kong people are very petty, very close-minded and don’t really like non-locals, whether foreign Chinese (like myself, though I was born in Hong Kong too), other Asians, or Westerners. What was also shocking is that a lot of these narrow-minded, gossiping colleagues were quite young.

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  3. This is totally bullying at the workplace. Ganging up against you to isolate you can be seen as a form of bullying. Not sure if you reported this up to your supervisors or HR. Sometimes, it can be a tiny misunderstanding that escalated quickly and snowballed into a mountain. And it does help to have someone else to mediate between two parties. Nevertheless, they shouldn’t have act in such a petty way and instead approach you to air it out. A year is way too long to withstand such situation, I applaud your tolerance.

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    1. Thanks for reading my post and giving me feedback, Kally. I was really stunned by how I was treated, but I tried to focus on my job and not start any confrontations or controversy. Ironically, when I decided I would not stay in this job, that is when I also stopped pretending everything was ok.
      I have also been told by others I should have either confronted the people or spoken to HR.
      At my other jobs, the longer I worked with people, the better I got along with them, including those who may not have been at the start. I was hoping this might happen too at this last company but the exact opposite happened. At the end of it, I am still perplexed as I am confident I did not do or say anything to provoke this situation. I am not the type to deny my own faults or pass the blame to others, and I do not try to undercut people. I totally agree that if they really had an issue with me, they should have approached me about it.

      That said, I have heard some bad stories from expats working in China as well where they were the lone nonlocal employee and were targeted with rumors and insults so perhaps my situation is similar (though I also was born in HK and spoke Cantonese 90% of the time in that workplace). I also feel, based on experiences with HK relatives and acquaintances, that HK society can be very negative and gossipy.

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      1. I empathize with you. I can’t say I know best since I have not worked in HK before, although I do have HK colleagues but it’s not the same when you are in their territory. As for working in China alongside with my Chinese colleagues, my experience working with them was in fact, one of my most enjoyable period in my career. Aside from the first few months of stumbling obstacles of culture shock, I surprised them and myself how strong our bond is formed during those 2 years. In fact, 2 of them even flown to Singapore for my wedding, expenses paid fully by them.

        I’ll love to have the opportunity to work in HK one day or even to go back to China. If that happens, I sure not want to be targeted and bullied like what you had been through. A big no no for me is abuse at workplace. I probably will explode in their face. Lol!

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        1. I think that your HK colleagues in Singapore probably had a more open/international attitude than HKers back in HK, and it would certainly be different working in HK with only HKers. I also had a lot of good mainland colleagues (I worked in Beijing before Hong Kong), several of whom I still keep in touch with. My company’s office was quite diverse with Westerners, Asians and local Chinese. Was your Chinese company almost all local or mixed? Whether from the beginning or after some months, I got along very well with almost all of my Chinese colleagues from the beginning. What I really appreciate about my mainland colleagues is that they were very responsible people who handled a lot of challenges (living on their own, renting their own apartments, hailing from hometowns halfway across the country) and it was easy to talk to them about challenges in living in Beijing, visiting your hometown, or studying abroad. I certainly learned my lesson and I will make sure not to let this happen again.

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          1. If you look from a different angle, your evil HK colleagues probably think you are a threat to their job hence they can’t wait to get rid of you. For them to be that jealous, you must be really excel in your job. 😊

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            1. That is a possible factor as jealous or envy could have played a part. I’m not sure I excelled, but I think I did a fairly good job. As it is, my manager split my job duties between a colleague and my replacement, who they still had not found when I left.
              To be honest, some Hong Kongers can be very spiteful, selfcentered and immature as I’ve found out with not just these colleagues, but a few HK relatives and acquaintances. In other words, they do not need a reason to dislike or try to undercut you; and when they do, they can be both very petty and malicious.
              As an example, the SCMP, HK’s main English paper, had an article recently about HKers’ love of pushing the “close” button in elevators even when they know people are trying to get in.
              http://www.scmp.com/news/hong-kong/community/article/2119647/would-you-hold-lift-door-stranger-answer-says-lot-about
              I’ve heard of something similar in Singapore regarding selfish behavior “kiasu,” but at least the use of this term shows Singaporeans are aware of this mentality and that it is not too positive. In contrast, not only do a lot of HKers take pride in rude and selfcentered behavior, but they pretend it is normal and acceptable, as in “oh, HK is competitive” and “HKers are always on the move and focused on work.”

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