The work environment in Cambodia places high value on hierarchy and respect. The principles of tradition and deference govern business conduct in Cambodia.
Business relationships are about mutual trust, which requires getting to know one’s counterparts. The concept of 'saving face' is important in Cambodia, especially in the country's business world. Although it can be frustrating for expats, they should respect that Cambodians prefer subtleness and indirect communication to solve a problem.
Business hours are usually from 8am to 5pm, with a lunch break in between.
Khmer is the language of business. English is sometimes used in the capital.
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. Expats should give gifts with both hands.
Women are part of the workforce, but senior positions are typically 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 conduct themselves professionally at all times. Punctuality, mutual respect and deference to seniority are valued and widely practised principles.
Expats should be careful not to criticise, embarrass or insult a Cambodian counterpart, as this can cause them to lose face. Pushy behaviour is unacceptable, so if there is disagreement over an idea, Cambodians will remain silent. Expats should be aware of the importance of face 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.
Before discussing work-related matters, small talk is always a great way to get the conversation going. Expats will find that meetings do not stick to any schedule or agenda, but tardiness is generally unwelcome. 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