New work rituals


A recent editorial in a local Chongqing newspaper spoke of the borderline harassment these street-level marketers engage in as they search for customers for the beauty salon that has hired them. With no traditional benefits, and compensation linked to performance (read: jawboning passing women into going to their beauty salon, and then radioing the identity of the woman in to the client to insure they actually follow through), their behavior is understandable, if not quite appropriate in everyone’s eyes. From my vantage point at the window bar of a café overlooking this pedestrian space, I’ve seen their numbers expand over several months from a trio of 20-somethings to over a dozen. As their numbers have swelled, their organizational rituals have evolved in tandem.

Over time, they’ve established hierarchy through seniority, and acquired earpiece walkie-talkies to give them a perceived boost in professionalism. The longer serving / higher-grossing individuals receive walkie-talkies that they make a frequent show of talking into (I’m assuming the less senior/successful marketers must “earn” theirs after a period of work / displayed aptitude). They’ve also taken to holding “pep talks” as their ranks have swelled (as seen above), similar to the more traditional “work units” (or danwei – until recently arguably one of the fundamental building blocks of modern Chinese society) who convene for what passes in this context as team-building motivational exercises (everything from speeches by mangers, to synchronized dancing, to group chants, to a combination of all the above). While in certain contexts this decisively “top-down” flow of motivation and authority is eschewed in favor of a “flatter” organizational style, that remains slowly emergent in the China I’ve recently observed.

What makes your “work unit” tick?

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