Kung hei fat choi!

Chinese New Year is a big holiday for many people around the world, and this 2016, the Year of the Fire Monkey, is no exception. For many, this is a time to return home and be with family for the next few days, even resulting in mass human migrations that look like this.

But Chinese New Year is more than just going home and spending time with family. For many employers, this is also a time for them to pray for good fortune this year. Showing appreciation for their employees, especially if they did really well last year, is part and parcel of that.

In this blog post, we will take a look at two very interesting Chinese New Year traditions that both employers and employees partake in, all in the name of boosting employee motivation.


Common in Malaysia, Indonesia and Singapore, during the Chinese New Year holiday employers and employees will gather around and toss together a noodle salad for good luck in the coming year. This is called yusheng, also known by the Cantonese name lo hei.

This tradition, originally from China but popularized in the 1960s by the ethnic Chinese communities of these countries, is said to represent the coming of good fortune and prosperity for the company in the coming year.

The employer and his/her employees would gather around the table, add all the ingredients together that make up the yusheng, and then mix them all together while reciting several New Year’s greetings. When it’s done, everyone eats!

At many companies in these countries, the communal yusheng is done to help employees better know one another, and at the same time feel that their bosses are approachable even when they’re higher up the corporate ladder.


Another Chinese New Year tradition for many companies is the giving of red envelopes, or hongbao, to employees.

Similar to bonus pay during Christmas, hongbao is usually given to employees in recognition of a job well done the previous year. Like bonuses, they’re also supposed to motivate you so you can continue doing a good job this year, and in the future as well. After all, money is a great motivator for many people.

However, unlike normal bonuses, you don’t know how much you receive exactly in a red envelope until you open it. It is considered very rude in Chinese culture to open the envelope in front of the one giving it, so be sure to open it at home.

In Drive, Daniel Pink writes about an effective way to boost motivation among people: know that there is a reward, but not know what it is. That way, you would have to work for it as hard as you can, since you could reasonably expect that the reward at the end is a big reward. And even if that isn’t the case, at least the work you’ve already done is a reward in itself.

At many companies, giving red envelopes is akin to standard practice, and sometimes employees actually expect them even if they’ve done a poor job. This doesn’t always happen though — in 2014, Alibaba’s CEO, Jack Ma, famously said that none of his employees should expect red envelopes for 2015.

Lessons for non-Chinese employers

You might be thinking: what exactly does talking about prosperity noodles and red envelopes have to do with employee motivation?

In Asia, employees are very loyal to their companies. This was especially the case back in the day, when these same companies promised lifetime employment to each and every employee. The way companies did this was by trying to provide everything the employee could possibly ask for so that they would have no reason to leave.

For these employees, they were willing to work for the company so long as the company not only took care of them, but also provided them an environment for them to be motivated at work.  These traditions are but a part of a bigger picture of employee motivation in this part of the world.

Western employers can learn from this by adapting their employee engagement and employee motivation strategies to these traditions.  Why not have a group meal from time to time, coupled with an activity or two?  Or why not making all bonuses a surprise, but tell people that they’ll get bonuses anyway, so that they work harder?

It involves a lot of experimentation, yes, but when executed well, these traditions can go far even in non-Chinese workplaces.

(Image credits: train station image by Charlie Fong on Wikipedia/public domain; yusheng image by Jan on Flickr/CC-BY-SA 2.0; hongbao image by Gzdavidwong on Wikimedia Commons/CC-BY-SA 4.0)