The work environment in Cambodia is based on hierarchy and respect. Cambodia is governed by principles of tradition and deference, which affect the way in which business is conducted.
Business relationships are about mutual trust, which can require investing time in getting to know one’s counterparts. The concept of 'saving face' is important, especially in the business world. Although it can be frustrating for expats, they should respect that Cambodians prefer subtleness and indirect communication in order to solve a problem.
In the Ease of Doing Business Survey for 2020, Cambodia was ranked at 144th out of 209 countries assessed. Though the country did well in ease of getting credit (25th), its score was brought drastically down by categories such as starting a business (187th) and enforcing contracts (182nd). Cambodia can therefore be a difficult place to do business in.
Business hours are usually from 8am to 5pm, with a lunch break in between.
Khmer is the language of business. In the capital, English is sometimes used.
The dress code is formal. Men wear suits, and women should cover their shoulders and knees.
If invited to someone’s home, a gift of fruit, sweets or flowers is appreciated. Gifts should be given with both hands.
Women can be found in the working world, but senior positions are usually reserved for men.
Business culture in Cambodia
The business culture in Cambodia tends to be conservative. Businesspeople are expected to dress in formal suits and their conduct is expected to be professional at all times. Punctuality, mutual respect and deference to seniority are all valued principles and are widely practised.
Expats should be careful not to criticise, embarrass or insult a Cambodian counterpart, as this can cause them to lose face. Pushy behaviour is not tolerated, and therefore if there is disagreement over an idea, Cambodians will remain silent. Expats should be aware of the importance of face, in order to avoid conflict in the workplace.
Handshakes are commonplace. With a Cambodian woman, it is best to see if she extends her hand first. Cambodians address people with the honorific title Lok for a man and Lok Srey for a woman, either with the first name alone or both the first name and surname.
Prior to the discussion of work-related matters, small talk is always employed. Expats will find that meetings do not stick to any schedule or agenda, but tardiness is always frowned upon. Meetings tend to continue until the attendees feel that everything has been addressed.
Dos and don’ts of business in Cambodia
Do be on time as arriving late shows a lack of respect
Don’t show emotions like anger or impatience as this can lead to a loss of face
Do be modest when receiving praise
Don’t maintain prolonged eye contact
Do have a business card translated into Khmer on one side and English on the other