Happy or Angry Ayis and Drivers! How much is enough HONG BAO for Spring Festival?


Can Spring Festival Hong Bao set you up or burn you down for the new year?

The Basics:

Hong Bao is money presented in a red envelope for festivals, holidays, weddings, new babies and special occasions.

Spring Festival Hong Bao is NOT the same as annual bonus. It is one of many times during the year to show closeness and care for the relationships around you.

Chinese families who respect their Ayis and Drivers like part of the family have staff that go above and beyond their job descriptions.  They know their helpers’ priorities: parents, spouses, children, and grandkids and give thoughtfully on birthdays, festivals, change of season, beginning of semesters, graduations and any time they think care is needed.

Here are their secrets to Spring Festival giving:

  • Amount of money is based on “Relationship/Closeness”
    • If you never see your Ayi and she only cleans once a week, even if its been 2 years, you really have little to no relationship so no need to give more
    • If  you see your helper only once a week and during that time you talk share and get to know each other, you would give more
  • Sets the tone of appreciation and gratitude for the relationship for the coming year more than a reflection of the previous year’s performance
    • It’s like a deposit or downpayment on next year’s service. If you know you are going to be pregnant, or travel more and will need more help, it’s good to reflect that in giving
  • To settle debts that haven’t been paid back
  • To provide for the receiver’s highest priorities which are often times family and the younger generations
    • Money is not the only gesture
    • Give gifts that you know their priorities will need.  You know they will see their parents relatives and friends, so you can show you care by giving things their families need and can enjoy
  • One of many times throughout the year to recognize and show appreciation to our staff (not just one time a year)
    • Give thoughtfully and give often

There is NO “correct” amount to give. Context is everything. So in addition to relationships, also consider neighborhoods, social circles, part/full-time vs. live-in and experience with previous bosses which will all impact your helpers’ expectations. Find out what your peers are doing and know who your helpers talk to.

That being said, precedence has been set and hiring agencies usually enforce a 13 month bonus in foreign and some local contracts. Or, the bonus is pro-rated according to how long the Ayi/Driver has been working. Western populated areas like Jinqiao, Lujiazui and former French Concession in Shanghai and Shunyi, CBD, Changning district in Beijing are known to give higher wages and “bonuses” can be as much as 2 months salary.


Remember!! Ayis and Drivers share and compare, so being over generous may be just as harmful giving too little and can result in unexpected changes of behavior.

  • May send the message that your service provider is TOO important resulting in a decline in service
  • May make your service provider feel “paid off” or indebted to you and imply that you will need something in the future from them
  • May arouse suspicion that you are getting ready to change your original agreement with them (buttering them up)


Pages that will make your day:

If you’re staying China during CNY

Spring Festival Safety

Made in China podcast

World famous speaker on Listen, Dr. Mark Goulston

New Leadership master and former US nuclear submarine captain, David Marquet

President of EO, Verne Harnish

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