The world is shrinking. Country boundaries are not longer a barrier to employment and increasingly companies are looking to recruit staff from abroad to fill vacancies for both skilled and unskilled roles. However, employing staff from a variety of national and cultural backgrounds gives rise to a number of cultural challenges which need to be addressed to create a successful outcome both for the ‘home team’ and for those arriving in a new country, who will be adapting to a new language and a new way of life.
There are two main challenges: firstly to ensure acceptance and smooth integration of the inpats into the work environment and secondly to ensure the inpats can make the transition to a new culture as easily as possible.
Integration into the home team
Our culture is largely invisible to us and insight only comes after clashes and crashes with people who are culturally different. When workers from abroad come into our space we have no choice but to reflect on who we are. – It affects our sense of self, our security and our level of comfort. It exposes our values and our tolerance of change.
For many this evokes feelings of fear and uncertainty. Staff can be helped to tackle their fear of the unknown by making it known. We can involve staff in the processes – recruitment and logistics for example and consult them on practical matters such as accommodation, workspace and social induction for the inbound workers.
Providing background information and knowledge about the culture of the countries of the new workers to the UK team will help counteract local prejudice, create a common understanding and form a base for relationship building that can bind the team together.
Managers will need to address any tensions between the new and established team members. Cultural examples centre on time keeping, work methods, attitudes toward authority, teamwork and motivation to get the job done as these can all vary substantially between cultures. The manager’s role here is to bridge the culture gap between the existing work force and the inbound worker. The question is what is missing and where is the need?
One way to achieve this is through clear communication. With increasing pressure to meet commercial deadlines and even concerns over issues such as health and safety, it is essential that rules, regulations and responsibilities are communicated clearly to staff.
However, many inpats’ first language may not be English so do not underestimate the challenge of the language barrier. Fluency in English and cultural understanding tends to be strongly correlated with age; younger generations tend to have better English language skills than older generations for example.
Be aware of enunciating, speaking slowly and controlling the way you talk by using a language free of slang or colloquialisms to help non-native English speakers who are struggling with the language. Also be aware of the literal meanings of words and phrases as these can easily be mis-interpreted.
Using visual images and backing up rules and instructions in writing will help. Many employees find it easier to understand pictures and written words rather than a spoken language with all its cultural nuances that are hidden and only apparent to UK nationals.
Smoothing the transition to a new culture
Inpats will also experience culture shock at some stage. This may include feeling emotionally low and missing home, developing stress induced illnesses or drinking and eating too much. This phase should pass but can cause problems if the local team do not understand culture shock.
What is needed and appreciated by the newly arrived overseas worker is help and guidance – pointing out the pitfalls and necessary steps to fit in with British life, UK rules and acceptable behaviour at work. A guide or source of practical information will make the difference between sinking and being positively engaged in work.
A number of organisations, such as Farnham Castle, offer international management development programmes and workshops which help executives learn more about how to achieve clear communication between cultures. For a small investment, they can offer information about how to integrate culturally diverse teams successfully which will ultimately pay far more in the dividends of a successful project later. For further information see: www.farnhamcastle.com
By Matthew Hill, Intercultural Trainer, Farnham Castle International Briefing & Conference Centre