Managing in the Philippines

Working in a Relationship-Driven Culture

Managing in the Philippines - Working in a Relationship-Driven Culture

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Discover how to manage successfully in this friendly, welcoming country.

For many people, the Philippines is an exciting holiday destination. Its sandy beaches and tropical climate make it one of the world's most popular tourist spots, but this fascinating country boasts much more than this. It has a rich cultural history, diverse wildlife, dramatic landscapes, and warm, friendly people.

The Philippines is a melting pot of Asian, American and Spanish influences, and you can see these different identities reflected in the country's architecture, food, streets, and names. Filipinos are exceptionally welcoming, and they place a high value on "pakikisama," which is the ability to get along with others.

In this article, we'll explore how to live and work successfully in the Philippines, whether you're managing a remote team or working with Filipino team members.


This article is intended as a general guide only. The Philippines is a culturally diverse country, so it's important to keep an open mind and use your best judgment, depending on your situation and the people you are working with.

About the Philippines

The Republic of the Philippines comprises approximately 7,000 islands, which cover 115,831 square miles. It's located in Southeast Asia, to the south of Taiwan and east of Vietnam. Manila is the country's capital, and the most populous city is Quezon City – both of these are part of the National Capital Region of Metro Manila. However, most people live on the island of Luzon.

The Philippines is located in Southeast Asia, to the south of Taiwan and east of Vietnam.

The Philippines has a population of approximately 100 million people, in addition to nearly 12 million Filipinos living abroad.

The country has a tropical climate, and is usually hot and humid. There are three seasons: hot and dry (March to May), rainy (June to November), and cool and dry (December to February). Most of the islands also experience torrential rains and thunderstorms from July to October.

The country is also prone to earthquakes and typhoons, and there are many active volcanoes. For example, Mount Pinatubo erupted in June 1991 – the second-largest volcanic eruption of the 20th century.

The Philippines is home to many different ethnic groups and cultures. Some of its earliest inhabitants were the native Negritos. Chinese, Malaysian, Indian, Taiwanese, and Islamic people have also migrated there, bringing their knowledge, skills and customs with them.

Today, approximately 28 percent of Filipinos belong to the Tagalog ethnic group. The remainder are a combination of other indigenous and non-tribal people, including Cebuano, Bikol and the Moro. Filipinos generally belong to several Asian ethnic groups, classified as Austronesian or Malayo-Polynesian.

The Philippines is home to migrants from China, Spain, Mexico, India, Japan, and the U.S., and Chinese and Spanish people are the most significant non-native minorities. The Spanish first settled in the country in 1565, and it was part of the Spanish empire for the next 300 years. In 1849, the Governor-General Narciso Clavería y Zaldua ordered the general population to adopt Spanish surnames, so many people now have names that are far removed from their ancestry.

Roman Catholicism became the dominant religion as a result of the Spanish settlement, although it's now in decline. However, many Filipinos practice traditional Philippine religions, which are a mixture of Christianity and Islam.

The country's official languages are Filipino and English, although people speak 182 Austronesian languages. Filipino and English are both used in government, business and the media. Filipino is a version of Tagalog, which is spoken in the major urban areas – most people living outside large cities do not speak English.

Useful Phrases

English Filipino Phonetic
Hello/How are you? Kumusta Koo-moo-STAH
I am fine Mabuti Mah-BOO-tee
Goodbye Paalam Pah-AHL-ahm
Please Paki Pah-KEE
Thank you Salamat Sah-LAH-maht
You're welcome Walang anuman Wah-LAHNG ah-noo-MAHN
Where is the...? Saan ang...? Sah-AHN ahng...?
How much? (money) Magkano? Mahg-KAH-noh

Employment Law

Working Hours and Overtime

Filipinos typically work eight hours per day, five days a week. They are entitled to be paid overtime for working longer than this, but certain groups are excluded, such as managers, government employees, and domestic staff.

Maternity Leave

Every employed woman is entitled to 60 days' maternity leave, or 78 days for a caesarean delivery. During this time, mothers also receive a maternity benefit, which is equivalent to full pay, for their first four children.

Paternity Leave

Married male team members receive seven days' paid paternity leave, whether they work full-time, are probationary, or are contracted. This also applies to their wives' first four deliveries.

Parental Leave

Single parents are entitled to seven days' parental leave every year, provided they have been employed for at least one year. If they marry, they relinquish their rights to this parental benefit.


Filipinos are granted 12 days' paid leave every year, and they also enjoy several public holidays, many of which originate from the Catholic Church. There are also additional "special non-working days," where employees can take unpaid days off.

Filipinos celebrate the following national holidays:

  • New Year's Day – January 1.
  • EDSA Revolution Anniversary – February 25.
  • Maundy Thursday – Date changes each year (March 29 in 2018; April 18 in 2019.)
  • Good Friday – Date changes each year (March 30 in 2018; April 19 in 2019.)
  • Black Saturday – Date changes each year (March 31 in 2018; April 20 in 2019.)
  • Easter Sunday – Date changes each year (April 1 in 2018; April 21 in 2019.)
  • Day of Valor – April 9.
  • Labor Day – May 1.
  • Independence Day – June 12.
  • Ninoy Aquino Day – August 21.
  • National Heroes' Day – Date changes each year (August 27 in 2018; August 26 in 2019.)
  • All Saints' Day – November 1.
  • All Souls' Day – November 2.
  • Bonifacio Day – November 30.
  • Christmas Eve – December 24.
  • Christmas Day – December 25.
  • Rizal Day – December 30.

How to Get the Best From Your Team

The Filipino idea of "pakikisama" means that people make a big effort to get along well with others, at home and in the workplace. Here are a few tips to help you achieve pakikisama, and develop effective working relationships with your team members.

Focus on values. Filipinos value relationships, social harmony, and a sense of belonging and acceptance by a group. People care about what others think, and they work hard to avoid "hiya," which translates as "a sense of shame."

Cooperate. People place greater importance on groups than on individuals. So, it's important to help others and to set a good example. Don't be rude or unkind to anyone, as Filipinos won't tolerate this.

Be a strong leader. Business culture in the Philippines is hierarchical and, as a manager, you'll be treated with respect and seen as the leader. Your team members will expect you to provide them with detailed instructions, while maintaining harmony within the group.

Communicate gently. Direct commands are unacceptable, regardless of who gives them. Always say "please" to avoid giving offence, be tactful, and be aware of your facial expressions and body language. Bear in mind that many Filipinos are hesitant to ask for clarity or help, so that they can avoid "hiya." So, provide clear, courteous instructions, in writing where possible.

Be patient. Filipinos value tradition and are reluctant to accept change, so be patient and respectful of people's customs. Your team members will likely treat schedules as flexible, even when you've made appointments or set deadlines, so don't be offended if people are a few minutes late.

Avoid confrontation. Filipinos don't like confrontation and will avoid saying "no," even when they disagree. Be aware that when your team member says "yes," he or she might mean "maybe" and simply wants to avoid conflict.

Political Situation and Safety

In the past, the threat of communism created hostility between the Philippines and China, but this relationship has greatly improved. However, economic relations between other Asian countries and the threat of military conflict have now become the country's main concerns.

The U.S. Department of State warns against travel to the Philippines, particularly the Sulu Archipelago, areas of the island of Mindanao, and the southern Sulu Sea area. The U.K. Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) also advises against travel to these areas, due to the risk of terrorism and kidnapping, and clashes between the military and insurgent groups.

In 2014, the Philippines government signed a peace agreement with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF). This aimed to end years of rebellion in exchange for a new law giving Muslims self-rule in some provinces. However, there has been some tension between the two groups since then.

The government has also been struggling to control members of the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF), who are allied with Islamic State.

Be vigilant when living or working in the Philippines. Avoid travel to the areas mentioned above, and leave an area quickly and calmly if you feel unsafe or threatened.

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Additional Tips:

  • Meeting and greeting. First meetings are quite formal, so greet the oldest or most senior person first with a handshake. Use titles and surnames until you're invited to use someone's first name.
  • Relationships. Filipinos often blend personal and business relationships, so it's important to develop a social network and to participate in friendly conversations at the end of meetings. Colleagues may ask you to do favors for them, and they will expect you to ask them in return.
  • Meetings and appointments. Be sure to make appointments or schedule meetings several weeks in advance, and to confirm a few days beforehand. Easter is important to Filipinos, so avoid requesting meetings around this time. People also prefer interacting in person, so avoid teleconferences or remote sessions where possible.
  • Dress. Business attire is conservative. Both men and women should wear suits to work and professional events.
  • Dining. Filipino food is a combination of many influences, including Spanish, Chinese, American, and other Asian cultures. The American influence has resulted in many fast food restaurants opening. Filipinos usually eat with a fork and spoon, rarely a knife, and do not use chopsticks. At dinner, hold your fork in your left hand and your spoon in your right. The traditional method of eating without utensils, "Kamayan," is becoming more popular, especially the military style, "boodle fight," which is when food is placed on top of banana leaves on a long table and eaten by hand.
  • Transportation. Transport links in the Philippines are relatively underdeveloped. In towns and cities, people can travel easily on buses, taxis, motorized tricycles, and "jeepneys," which are vividly decorated buses that have become symbols of Filipino culture. Highways exist on the island of Luzon, and connect it with the islands of Samar, Leyte and Mindanao. People mainly travel by train within Metro Manila, and they use ferries or smaller boats called "Bankas" to travel between islands.

Key Points

The Philippines is a tropical country that boasts a rich cultural heritage. It has been influenced by many other countries, including China, America and Spain.

Filipinos are traditional people who value family, faith and strong personal relationships. They are closely tied to the concept of "pakikisama," which encourages getting along well with others and making good social connections a priority. They also try to avoid "hiya," which is the "shame" that comes from hurting other people's feelings or engaging in conflict with the group.

Manage your friendly and welcoming Filipino team by being tactful, respecting people's values and customs, and avoiding confrontation.