Economical Thai Labor

Compared to running a business in a western country, Thai labor is far more economical, but there are advantages and disadvantages to both.

In this article, I would like to discuss some of the advantages and disadvantages, and also raise some other issues.

I have worked with people from many countries in this world, though I come from the USA and therefore have the most experience with Americans.

Besides the advantages and disadvantages, there are many things that you will find similar between Thais and others, and what I would call no significant differences:

  • what % of employees care about the customer, vs. just do the minimum
  • what % of employees care about your company, vs. just do the minimum
  • what % of vendors try to cheat
  • what % of vendors will empathize with the customer and go to extra efforts
  • what % of employees just seem clueless and careless about their jobs and roles

Many of these traits you can see for yourself if you just go shopping and observe the efforts and quality of others' employees.

I was self-employed running my own business in the USA from 1987 to 1994, so my viewpoint will mostly reflect that. The foreigners who I have worked with in the USA and in Thailand were expats, so I don't know how well they reflect the typical people in their own countries who didn't get off their butts and go to Thailand.

Compared with Americans I've worked with, I will say the following, which reflects an average. For example, I have known a lot of Thais who will steal if given a chance, but I knew Americans who would, too. On the other hand, I have known larger numbers of both Thais and Americans to be very honest even when that does not serve their interests, such as when they make mistakes or have a weakness.

Humans tend to remember negative experiences more than positive ones, because it's just survival instinct. Negative experiences make a much stronger impression and are remembered longer. Fear and negative experiences also get your attention, which is why the news is full of crimes and wars, and the movies are full of violence.

I try to stay objective about these things, and wish to urge others to also be fair in their overall assessments -- the averages. That said:

  • More Thais tend to establish strong relationships with co-workers.
  • More Thais tend to be honest, and less able to tell a lie convincingly.
  • More Thais tend to not be tricky, and when tricky to be less clever.
  • More Thais work longer hours for lower wages.
  • More Thais tend to be loyal to a good employer.
  • Far more Thais tend to be loyal to a bad employer, unfortunately.
  • More foreigners tend to analyze problems better and to find more creative solutions, enhancing value.
  • In high level jobs, employees tend to care about the customer at about the same level.
  • In low level jobs, Thai employees tend to care about the customer far more.
  • Petty theft is more common in Thailand (though most employees would never steal, for honor).
  • High level, white collar theft is high everywhere (though many employees would never steal).

Dishonesty and theft are far more common in areas of wealth such as the expat center of Bangkok or Pattaya than in the suburbs and provinces. This may be partly due to the fact that people who value money highly and be willing to do most anything for money will migrate to the expat areas, but also due to the disconnectedness from community of migratory workers and the general psychology of a crowded city center.

I sometimes get some flack for hiring Thais instead of fellow Americans, so I would like to address this issue.

I hire good people regardless of where they come from, whether they be Thai, Australian, American, or from wherever. If they care about the customer, the company, or me, then I will do what I can. I just happen to be in Thailand, so I would need a good reason to hire an American for a salary many times that of a Thai, and go to all the necessary expense and paperwork to get their work permit, and so on.

Having run my own business in the U.S. from 1987 to 1994, and run my own businesses from 1994 to date, I can tell you from experience. Most people are just talk. They have not run their own business. And given the chance, many will be ungrateful and take advantage of the situation.

I pay good Thai people more than most anyone else would pay them, as well as rewards and commissions when they go beyond their normal duties. Those who genuinely care about our customers, our business and other people in general, and who are willing to take responsibility and do their best, are a permanent member of our company family.

I've had Thai people go the extra mile for my customers, for our company, and for me a lot more on average than I've experienced with most non-Thai employees. On average and typically. Of course, I've had a lot of bad Thai employees, too, just like I've had bad foreign employees. Again, average and typically.

Sometimes, I get complaints about Americans losing their jobs because of cheaper labor overseas. Let me respond this way: If you were born American in America, then you've had opportunities whereby it's stretching it to complain and blame Asians for your hardships.

For the cost of one foreigner, I can support many good Thai people and their families. Good people are everywhere, and one shouldn't stereotype people. You may be surprised how many Thais there are who have good attitudes towards others, help their communities, spend their money carefully, and follow moral paths in life. I don't look at peoples' nationalities, I look at their morals and lifestyles.

This does not make me unpatriotic. I am very patriotic about the founding principles of my country, its constitution, its freedom of the press, its support of free enterprise, its humanitarian assistance around the world historically and presently, and some of its leadership. However, I am not patriotic about its expensive and mercenary health care system, its litigious culture, its violent movies, and some other things. America's economy is broken and there are a lot of spoiled people who have not been able to adapt in moral ways. When their bad attitude spills over onto me, all I can say is that they need to take a step back and look at their real problems, not some stereotype of me with is inaccurate and a waste of their time.

There are two kinds of "cheap labor" -- skilled and unskilled. I do not hire unskilled labor, but I know people who do in factories.

When I first came here, among myself and other expats, many of us thought that maybe these people just never had an opportunity, and we often went the extra mile to give them a chance.

Many of these people will seize a chance to improve their skills and value.

Most will remain clueless, and their job for the rest of their lives is best kept as rote. You have to tell them exactly what to do, and they will do that forever, though many of them will become very good at their rote skill. If you don't tell them what to do, or give them half a chance, many will go home and sit in front of a TV and otherwise squander their time for hours if not days on end. Give them something to do because they need someone to, almost regardless of the pay levels.

In hiring for a company, you should place an ad in the newspapers and consider only university graduates, full stop. There are far more university graduates in Thailand than there are jobs, unfortunately.

Many university graduates chose an easy major field of study because they failed in a previous one, often out of lack of self-discipline.

If you need initiative or entrepreneurial abilities in your job, then you had better choose very carefully and look at track records, not listen to what they say.

CV dishonesty is extremely high in Thailand, especially about work experience and skills. You must double check anything important. The interview should include strategies to determine what's true and what's not.

We have been contacted by many Thais who are experienced and proficient in office operations, working fulltime for a multinational, but who say they want to make more money and express a willingness to do whatever it takes. However, rarely will they do what they say, to make that extra money. They usually just want the extra money and start making excuses about why they don't do what they said they would do, despite incentives. It has been a frustration over and again.

Thais are generally not an entrepreneurial people with initiative. Much moreso, they copy others. There are exceptions, especially Chinese Thais. However, for quality, you need to be very careful in choosing your employees and Thai partners.

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