A Changing Approach to Time Management in Thailand?

Written by Ulrika Sydhoff November 2013. Posted in Leadership, Int. Skills

A Changing Approach to Time Management in Thailand?

Conducting business successfully in any part of the world requires effective time management. The goal is to create a conducive environment where work runs smoothly and efficiently, yet does not contribute to stress. In the words of the Management Study Guide: Time management refers to managing time effectively so that the right time is allocated to the right activity”. Still, what is considered successful time management differs around the world, not least in Thailand. According to the traditional Thai view, time is considered fluid and life should not to be controlled by the clock or any predetermined deadlines. This lifestyle is still current there today, but things are gradually changing.

A recent survey done by the American accounting and advisory company Grant Thornton shows that business leaders in Thailand are the fifth most stressed worldwide.One reason for this elevated level of stress could be that business in Thailand is adapting to a more Western result-oriented management. This change clashes with the country’s traditional work-life balance and may enhance stress levels. Another possible explanation that Pecotich et al. suggest is that competition from foreign companies is rapidly increasing, which also contributes to stress.   

Despite this increase of stress among top leaders, the practice of time management in Thailand is still very different from that in the West. Thailand is a country where business is best conducted through relationship building, and getting to know each other takes time! Investing time in building up a good relationship will immensely facilitate a successful business. Furthermore, Thailand is a long term oriented country, meaning that they seldom make short-term and quick decisions. A business relationship is therefore expected to last for a long time and building up mutual trust and loyalty is essential.

Group harmony is another important aspect of the Thai society. That has its origin in the Buddhist religion and affects everyday life for many people in Thailand. Approximately 95% of the Thai people are Buddhist and their religion emphasizes coexistence, tolerance, and individual initiative. One example of the religious influence is that the Thai people tend to be risk avoiding and thus prefer not to confront each other directly if a problem occurs. Criticism is instead presented in a more indirect way so that the balance within the group will maintain undisturbed.

Another different aspect of time management in Thailand is their approach to deadlines. The best way to make sure deadlines are met is to make ones that people agree on. This will prevent the risk of the Thais losing their face and as a consequence, disturbing the group harmony. An additional piece of advice is to intervene from time to time to reassure that the work is going in the right direction. Otherwise, there is an imminent risk that a deadline is perceived as a mere guideline and the work will not be finished on time.

So, is the approach towards Time management changing in Thailand? A development that supports that idea is the increasing focus on result-oriented management. Another indicator is the gradually changing view upon more strict deadlines. The constantly increasing competition from foreign companies is another factor that is forcing the Thai people to become more effective in their time management. Yet, even though there are some signs of change, Thais will still continue to have a long-term perspective on business. This way of managing time has worked well in the past and will most likely continue to do so in the future.