Given New Delhi’s status as the nation’s capital, the public sector used to be the main employer for white-collar staff working in Delhi. The large number of Indian government officials is met by an equally numerous foreign diplomatic corps. In addition, Delhi is home to various international organizations, which employ a significant share of all foreigners working in Delhi. Most regional offices of the UN in India, for example, can be found in Delhi.
However, the importance of the public sector in terms of the local economy has declined in favor of a constantly expanding service sector. One of the reasons for this development has been the large pool of skilled English-speaking staff working in Delhi. The availability of a large skilled workforce is now attracting many multinational companies, which in turn results in growing numbers of expats working in Delhi.
While manufacturing — especially consumer goods — still provides plenty of employment opportunities, Delhi’s tertiary sector constituted 87% of the city’s GDP in 2013–2014. The key service industries are IT, telecommunications, banking, media, hospitality, and tourism. Those working in Delhi benefit from a high per capita income, but at the same time experience a relatively high cost of living as compared to the rest of India.
The large consumer market, combined with vast reserves of skilled laborers, increasingly attracts foreign investment. Delhi is home to many commercial centers, and the fast-growing organized retail industry is partly responsible for skyrocketing property and land prices. Laborers working in Delhi’s traditional retail trading system have suffered from this development.
Expats working in Delhi need at least a basic understanding of Indian culture if they want to be successful. Business etiquette is no rocket science, but foreigners who fail to acknowledge its importance are unlikely to achieve optimal results. Below are a few basic rules that every expat should abide by.
First of all, foreigners working in Delhi need to be aware that social structures within Indian companies are likely to reflect those within Indian society as a whole. The legacy of the caste system becomes apparent in strictly observed and unquestioned hierarchies in the workplace. This is less true if you are employed in, for instance, Delhi’s emerging IT and services sector, but more so in traditional Indian companies.
Hierarchies are not only formal structures; they also translate into trivial daily routines. For example, as an expat in a top position working in Delhi, you should avoid performing any menial tasks, such as making coffee or even moving chairs. Always give clear instructions to your subordinates, as they may not be used to interpret vague guidelines or to be rewarded for showing initiative.
When working in Delhi, you will soon discover that gift giving is an important part of the local business culture. Gifts needn’t be expensive, but always choose them with the recipient in mind. Make sure not to offend any religious or cultural sensibilities, e.g. no leather products for pious Hindus, no alcohol for practicing Muslims, etc.
One thing in particular you should remember when working in Delhi is never to expect a straight “no” in reply to a question or request. Or, to put it the other way round, don’t automatically assume that an affirmative answer actually means “yes”. Evasiveness and a lack of commitment are all you’ll get by way of disagreement or refusal.
So, if you hear someone say “this is possible”, or “we’ll see what we can do”, don’t get your hopes up. Naturally, this also works the other way round: try to avoid causing an affront by being too direct with your business partners while working in Delhi.
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