Understanding work culture in Bali

work culture
Updated 2019-10-30 14:20

The work environment in Bali varies from company to company, but in general, it is closely linked to the overall culture of the island that places massive importance on the hierarchy of age and community.

In terms of the interaction between senior and junior employees, Balinese are more laid back in that aspect, although as a general rule, you should always respect elderly workers. In the workplace, seniority is mostly determined by age rather than work achievements and actual position. So, even if you have a higher position than most of your colleagues, it is always advisable to be polite in your interaction to avoid being socially shunned.

Greetings in Bali

The general rules of polite interaction apply. Always smile (Indonesians have a weakness for smiling people), say a greeting when coming to work (a simple Selamat Pagi/Good Morning would capture your Indonesian colleagues in an instant), and always address your colleagues, especially the ones who are older than you, with honorific prefixes.

These are some of the magic words that should be in your dictionary:


  • Good morning: Selamat pagi
  • Good afternoon: Selamat Siang
  • Goodnight: Selamat Malam
  • Thank you: Terima kasih or Suksma in Balinese
  • Please: Tolong – “Bisa tolong bantu saya?” - Could you please help me?

Honorific prefix

  • Sir: Pak (To address old(er) men
  • Mam/madam: Ibu/Bu (To address old(er) or married women.
  • Miss: Mba or Mbo in the Balinese language (To address young unmarried women. If you are unsure if a woman is married or not, it is safer to address her as Ibu)
  • Young man: Mas or Bli in the Balinese language.

Especially in a formal work meeting, it is advisable to address your colleagues with the formal honorific for Pak (men) and Ibu (women), regardless of their age and marital status. In addition to being formal, it also implies that you respect their capabilities and contribution to the company. For example: “Ibu Wati, will help me in this project.”

There are also lots of foreign-owned and multinational company and hotel chain in Bali. They generally have more liberal culture as in the west. In some company, you may casually call your boss or coworker by name, although you will always get an extra brownie point to be polite by addressing colleagues with honorific titles as above.

The dress code in Bali

Regarding the professional dress code, the style differs distinctly from one company to the other. In a country where politeness is a virtue, the dress code in most companies follows the same order. If you are working in the hospitality sector or in a formal institution like a bank or university, do not picture yourself going to work in a flip-flop, short pants and torn t-shirt just because you are in Bali. Unless you are working for a lifestyle brand that carries such a dress code, employees are still going to work in formal clothing. While wearing a power suit to office is rarely seen in Bali (due to the warm climate), wear something proper to go to work. For men, it can be a button-up shirt and long pants (short pant is considered as impolite in a formal environment as a workplace). While for women, a courteous blouse that covers cleavage and shoulders with a pant or modest skirt can do.

Recently, the government dictated a special compulsory dress code to promote the preservation of local culture in the workplace. Every Thursday, all employees in Bali are required to wear traditional Balinese clothes that include a Kebaya for women and Udeng (Balinese traditional headgear) and sarong for men. Although foreigners are not strictly required to follow this rule, this can be a fun experience for you to follow as an expat. There is a special allure seeing Balinese women in Kebaya and its men in Udeng that exudes enchanting Balinese charm.

However, with the emergence of start-up culture and the rising phenomenon of digital nomads flocking to Bali, going to work in Bali in a singlet and flip flops is not entirely a myth. Many start-up companies employ a more casual approach when it comes to dressing up to work. Some companies allow their employees to wear a t-shirt; others even allow women employees to even wear a tank top and short pants to work. And if you are a digital nomad remotely working from a coworking space, you are always welcome to dress however you like to work.

Professional behaviour in Bali

In Bali and Indonesia, in general, it is common for interactions with colleagues to extend beyond working hours. This may come as quite a shock for people who originated from strict Western countries, like in Europe where the workplace is often seen as a place to work not to build friendships or any other personal relationships.

In Indonesia, your work colleagues are often becoming your closest friends and immediate support system. As an expat, your colleagues can be your ultimate treasure in navigating the challenges of moving to a foreign country. They are generally kind and always ready to help with the practical things of setting life in this foreign land. They can provide sound advice in finding a good “kos” (boarding room), renting a motorbike or finding those only-local-knows eateries.

Socialising at work in Bali

And how to make friends with your colleagues as an expat? One word: Food.

Food is the glue that binds people together in Bali. While it is rare for colleagues to go have a drink together, they often have a meal together.

Do mingle with your coworkers during lunch. Get involved. Indonesian and Balinese are a generally communal society, and they like to do things together. For example, it is common for coworkers to have lunch together. Or they may order delivery foods together. Make some efforts to join this group activity. This often extends to group dinners as well. It is never mandatory unless the company says so, but it is a way to be included in the inner circle of your colleagues.

Balinese treat colleagues as immediate friends and often share their home problem with them during lunch. It is distinctly different from the Western norm that often sees private and professional life as two distinct worlds.

Companies also often have regular bonding time together. This ranges from going to the cinema together, bowling, karaoke, or having a company outing. Every month or so, most companies arrange a company dinner to celebrate milestone, achievements and as a way for the company to appreciate its employees.

It is good for company morale that everyone is being included. If you are a manager working for a company in Bali, you would soon encounter employee resigning from work, not because of the salary or workload but merely because they are not comfortable with their work environment. After all, Indonesians consider their office as a second family. Thus this aspect is crucial to building team cohesion.

Colleagues also like to celebrate birthday together in the office. Some companies even provide free birthday cake to their employee on their birthday. It is also customary for coworkers to pitch in money to buy cakes or birthday gift together for the birthday boy/girl. When that happens, do pitch in, or else you will get labelled as “sombong” or arrogant.

We do our best to provide accurate and up to date information. However, if you have noticed any inaccuracies in this article, please let us know in the comments section below.