India is a land of diversity and it flourishes because of the same. It is a multi-lingual, multicultural society with a marginal difference even between the north and the south of India. With multifarious languages, cultures, and religions it is very difficult to generalize the market. Business culture in India varies with the kind of business, the strata at which the business is being conducted, and even the culture of those conducting the business.

Learning the Indian business culture is critical to be able to successfully conduct business and this article will act as a beginner's guide to Indian business ethics, culture and etiquette.


What is an ethical business culture?

History places an important role in the way the business culture is developed and it’s important to understand history before understanding the culture. Business culture and ethics is a term so abstract that it is difficult to explain it. It goes beyond the company handbook and the company’s goal. Business culture refers to the way a company function. It can involve how employees must dress for work, how they interact with seniors, how they interact with clients and sorts. Ethical business culture for a business would be to have an environment where doing the right thing is easy and doing the wrong thing leads to being reprimanded or even fired.

An ethical business environment also gives high importance to equal pay, equal rights, and fairness. While most businesses have straightforward guidelines on employee integrity, privacy, and sexual harassment, comparatively few have recognized policies regarding inducement, exploitive child labor, human rights violations, and other matters they may meet in the global market place. 

Here are a few business ethics common among the Indian businesses.


Bribery and corruption

India is ranked 81 out of 176 countries in the Corruptions Perceptions Index (CPI) and it is, unfortunately, a common practice in most businesses. Rampant corruption has hindered the country’s progress. Corruption comes from the lack of transparent laws, less public involvement, and poor administration. Explicit anti-corruption policies are in place across all sectors. Stricter rules and harsher punishments are causing people to refrain from engaging in corruption but it still continues to hinder development. Beware of taking bribes, know the consequences of the act. Moreover, if someone offers you a bribe, make sure to directly contact the relative anti-corruption bureau office.


Removing double standards

In order for a business to be ethical, the employer should strive to eliminate double standards and cultivate trust among the team members. There should not be any policies that managers are allowed to ignore when subordinates are required to follow it or are reprimanded for not following it. Certain rules apply to all employees and this allows them to put the work before anything else, regardless of their roles in the industry.


Create a respectful environment

Every ethical business should have an environment that makes it possible for every employee to take pride in their work and identify with the industry as a whole. There should be no discrimination based on any kind and no employee should be made to feel inferior or threatened in any way. The authorities should ensure that all employees have the right resources and in addition to that, the organization should respect the rights and dignity of all employees.


The direct relation between performance and rewards

Every workplace should function in such a way that there is a direct relationship between the performance and rewards. The company should be transparent when it comes to outlining decisions regarding performance, pay, and promotion. The criterion for achieving reward and recognition should be clearly defined and this information should be made available to all. The employer should typically avoid rewarding those who violate the values of the company and refrain from applauding the same.


CSR and social obligations

Corporate Social Responsibility is an emerging concept that is incorporated into the foundation of most companies today. Every company is socially obligated to keep their social relations in check. It is a sort of ‘self - regulation’ for companies and they are required to involve in activities that are beneficial to society as a repayment. It includes employee working hours to be spent on social projects.  CSR focuses on the urgent needs of society and it is much more than just donations and charity. Companies are required to spend a significant part of the profit on CSR activities.  

Community volunteering, company-funded activism campaigns, corporate philanthropy, donations to charity based on product sales, etc. are some ways in which companies perform CSR activities.


Encouraging workers to report illegal activities

Any workplace is ethically sound will always encourage its employees to report illicit and unethical activities such as discrimination, harassment, or corruption. A proper channel must be in place to ensure that employees can report these activities with the utmost ease and security. Moreover, employees should not be made to feel that they will be reprimanded by the employer if they decide to do the right thing. All employees must receive training on company policies and procedures with regard to workplace conduct.


What is business etiquette?​

Business etiquette is all about developing relationships with other individuals in the diverse field. It is not about rules & regulations but is about offering rudimentary social comfort and making an environment where others feel contented and secure, this is possible through better communication. It is a code that governs social behavior in the workplace. It is a set of manners that are required in any profession.

Here is a list of business etiquette popular among Indian businesspeople.


Remember names

Names are the first introductions that are made. Always say your full name the first time you meet someone. Pay attention to the other person when they introduce themselves. If you did not understand how to pronounce their name, just be sincere and ask. If it is a complicated name, they wouldn’t mind explaining it to you. That is better than butchering their name in the future. It is a task to remember names when you are in business but it very important that you do. One trick is to associate a characteristic to them which will help you remember their name.


Greetings and pleasantries

In any scenario, it is advised to know the person you are meeting in order to greet them right. Etiquette invites a handshake, although many Indians use the traditional Namaste to not only greet but also show respect to the other person. It also works out well in the current situation of social distancing. Make sure to address the senior-most member in the room first and show humility while doing so. Exchange of greeting cards is very important and make sure to take it with your right hand and keep it away respectfully so as to show the other party that they are valuable to you. Assess the relationship you have with the person and accordingly, you can indulge in a small talk which can include questions about their family and such. If you are meeting a party who has a family business, a good way of earning their trust is to ask about the family of the other business partners as well. That only goes to show that you are interested and involved.

In any professional place, it is advisable to use formal titles. Address them by their occupational titles and it will be appreciated. You can use a simple Mr. or Mrs. While addressing someone senior and don’t forget to add sir and madam too. You should take your time to develop relationships and learn during the process as well.


Dressing and clothes

Business dress code is the simplest kind of fashion that exists. It mostly consists of smart, comfortable clothing. A smart plain suit is considered the best. Some corporates have their own uniform to stand out. Ties are optional unless your work calls for it. Don’t wear any funky pieces just to be the life of your office as that may come off as unprofessional or even immature. Women can choose from trousers or a knee-length skirt and blouse or a saree too. Avoid wear revealing clothes to the workplace.

Check the footwear you pick. Avoid noisy, squeaky shoes as that is just disturbing in the office. Heavy, costly jewelry can be avoided so that you don’t come across as a show-off. Keep in mind the climate of your area and dress accordingly to avoid shivering or sweating profusely. Pack a sweater or a pashmina to keep you warm and avoid casual jackets and sweatshirts. It is only obvious that you wear neat, clean clothes without stains or wrinkles. Don’t wear shorts or slippers to your office. Always dress to impress, it only works in your favor!


Business language and communication

English is one of India’s official languages and is widely used across offices in the country. When you are trying to have a successful business meeting with a client listen carefully to the words they use. Indians avoid saying ‘no’ as it can come off as offensive and instead use words such as “we’ll see”, “I will try’ or “I’ll get back to you on that”. Avoid compelling them to be direct with you as it may close doors too early and it can be counter-productive. Find more efficient ways of getting the answer you want. Instead of asking them to give you a meeting, ask them when the meeting is. Steer clear of ‘yes’ and ‘no’ answers as the opposite side may be put into a fix to answer you immediately.



Punctuality is often what shows your interest in the business. There is a common notion that Indians typically arrive late to everything but you shouldn’t follow that norm. It is only expected of you to arrive for meetings on time or even a little early. Be prepared for meetings to start on time but also for them to finish late. It is just disrespectful to arrive late to a business meeting as you also made them wait for your presence. Wasting company time is to be avoided at all costs if you want to be in the good books. Calculate your travel time according to the traffic in your area and the place you have to go to. The best go-to reason for being late is traffic but it is most frequently frowned upon.


Gifting etiquette

It is not common to bring gifts to first business meetings. However, once the relationship is built and there is some degree of trust and comfort, gifts may be exchanged to show good faith. Reciprocity is of the utmost importance when gifts are received. Some companies advise their employees to not accept any forms of gifts to avoid legal troubles, and so it is essential to ensure that gifts are not too expensive so as to be considered as bribes. Don’t give something so inexpensive either as that is just insulting.

If you are invited to a social gathering it is only courtesy to take a gift for the host, it can be a bouquet or regular gifts like perfumes, sweets, or even small jewelry items. Make sure to hand it over with both hands.


Role of hierarchy

Indian businesses are often very hierarchically structured. Negotiations are conducted by the juniors but the decisions are generally made at the highest levels. Therefore, unless the company director, owner, or a very senior manager is available at a conference, a result is not likely to happen at that phase. Roles are well distinct and responsibilities such as manual labor will only be carried out by a precise individual. Offices vary with the structure they follow in terms of hierarchy and you should be aware of that before doing business with a particular company. Understand the direction in which information flows and change your tactic accordingly.

If you choose to do business with a foreign company, understand their culture as it may not be similar to the one followed in India. A junior in an Indian company may not be able to communicate with a senior as compared to a junior in the UK who will do the same thing without any discomfort.


Business lunch and dinners

Most business deals don’t end with the deal being finalized; it sometimes involves a meal. When you do go for a business lunch, avoid ordering lots of dishes. Let the seniors order. Make sure to have your table manners in check. Don’t dip into the main dish and always serve yourself after the seniors/opposite party is done serving themselves. Use one hand to eat your food and keep your napkin on your lap all through the meal. Don’t talk with your mouth full and avoid stuffing your face with food. Keep your elbows off the table. Make sure to thank them for the meal and throw in a few comments about how great the food is.

On the other hand, if you are hosting a lunch, make sure to over order. People are bound to get colleagues and you need to ensure that there is ample food for everyone. Have a lot of variety in the dishes you order and make the other party feel celebrated. Include equal quantities of vegetarian and non- vegetarian meals or just vegetarian meals based on the other party’s preferences.


Check and double-check

Make sure to proofread every document before sending it over to someone you are doing business with. Check for typos and grammatical errors as you don’t want to seem stupid to the other party. Always be polite in every mail, text, or any form of communication. Avoid text message language and emoticons. Stick to the point in a mail and keep it brief. Don’t say anything you wouldn’t say in person and whatever the form of communication may be, keep it professional.

It is necessary to start your job at a new workplace with all the right information. You should be aware of your rights as an employee and know your duties that come with it. Heading on a new journey can be quite daunting but don’t be afraid to ask questions, it doesn’t make you look bad. It’s better to be a person who asks a lot of questions and do the work right than be a stupid fool who messes up the work because he/she was afraid to ask. You will learn through the process and every mistake is a lesson in itself. Sometimes when you make a mistake it only helps you ensure that you avoid it in the future. Be aware of your surroundings and don’t be afraid to do the right thing or stand up for the right thing.


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