Challenges in a Cross-cultural Workplace
Geopolitical changes have opened up a sea of markets where companies compete to stake their hold. In order to understand the consumers and maximize their investments and returns, companies and enterprises need to establish a strong infrastructure with efficient managerial management that can help generate valuable assets. Most companies have to interact across territorial boundaries and these interactions are not alone based on economic relations. There is a substantial need to negotiate at a cross-cultural interface. In order to be successful in a globalized economy, companies need to understand the cross-cultural differences of not just their target audience but of the employees working within their domain, thereby creating a neutral and an interactive space for cultures to commune and engage in productive ventures. Internationalization of business has changed the business landscape wherein companies design their products and resources for an expansive foreign market. Companies, now look for economic interactions beyond their domicile. This calls for sensitive and empathy oriented communications as they have to interact with culturally unfamiliar environments and business associates. The notion of ‘foreignness’ or ‘other’ may hinder the cost-effective investments of companies. Hence, breaking the cultural code and assembling a cultural coherence within the operating firm is a necessity.
There is an urgent need to understand cross-cultural differences in workplaces. This is because the stakes are very high. According to the U.S. Census Bureau and U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis, in January 2019 alone, the total export in international goods and services was $207.3 billion. U.S. Chamber of Economics reports that 95% of consumers of American products reside outside America. Hence, the figures unarguably entail a need to strengthen commercial ties with other regions. More trade supports more American jobs. Mass migration has almost nullified the existence of a homogenous culture and compelled us to witness the co-existence and amalgamation of different cultures. International and provincial migrants impact not only the demography but the structure of the workplace. U.S. Department of Labor highlights that in 2017, 27.4 million foreign-born labor force in America accounted for 17.1% of the total labor force of the country. According to a survey by Forbes in 2017, 55% of the surveyed employers hinted towards hiring more workers from overseas. New American economy reports that nearly 6 million workers are employed at immigrant-owned businesses. The data suggest a systematic examination of the cultural diversity that exists in the workplace and the adoption of a sensitized, customized programme to promote cultural integrity.
Diversity in the workplace means there is a requirement of sensitivity to each other’s culture. The hiring process of a company is a critical process as employers have to select employees who come from different cultural backgrounds. The process is equally difficult for the employee as he or she is expected to adjust in unfamiliar cultural terrain. Often when placed in a different cultural context, employees face cultural shock which hinders their personal development and also affects the company’s productivity. Most companies prefer to maintain a homogenous cultural environment without trying to understand the diverse cultural identity of their employees and business associates. U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that until July 2018, 2.4% of employees in America quit their job voluntarily. Jobvite Survey shows that 30% of the employees hop to a new job after just 90 days of joining. The reasons can be better growth, lucrative compensations, incentives, etc. However, company culture is also one of the prominent reasons for an employee to switch to another organization. Employees are unwilling to try to fit into a rigid cultural work environment when they can easily switch to a more convenient workspace through different job sites available on the internet. Recruiters of an organization have to be attentive to the growing cultural disparity within the workplace as a high employee turnover rate proves to be an expensive affair.
There can be different culture identifiers ranging from dress code, religious practices, festivities, nonverbal behavior. Also, the generation gap and gender issues can create differences in the relation of employers and employee and between employees themselves. For instance, millennial employees may be reluctant to work on weekends and would rather put in some extra hours on workdays. Employees belonging to the older generations would prefer to work on a weekend rather than working long hours as they may want to spend time with their family.
Culture affects our behavior. Hofstede defines culture as the “collective programming of the human mind that distinguishes the members of one group from those of another. Culture in this sense is a system of collectively held values.” The imposition on the employees to abide by a common cultural perspective is an ineffective approach and may obstruct interpersonal relations in the workplace. Instead of using a method of cultural adaptation, managers must celebrate cultural differences as a means for innovation. The diverse values, beliefs, behavior, and responses of a culturally diverse team working in a firm will help generate innovative ideas and help to perceive the demands of consumers bearing a diversified cultural context. Company culture and onboarding are very crucial to employee retainment. Comprehending the behavior patterns of the employees will help managers, employers, and HR to hire people best fitted to sync with the company’s working culture and also enhance the behavioral skills of the employees to increase their productivity.
Understanding the diverse cultural backdrop of the employees or people associated with the business firm is imperative because culture affects our business economically. Existence of cultural difference within a business firm is inevitable. Instead of focusing on the problems that may arise from such a diverse working force, employers or managers must use their managerial skills to create avenues for interactions of employees belonging to different cultures, social or economic background and then observe, analyze and evaluate their ability to effectively communicate within the diverse framework. Cultural competence of employees and managers can be increased by devising a sophisticated communication competency programme that centers on improving linguistic ability, cognitive skills, behavior skills, cultural knowledge, empathy towards other’s culture and capacity to tolerate and deal with intercultural differences.
Culture is multifaceted. Language, religion, values, dress, cuisine, etc., formulate culture. Some cultures may emphasize on the idea of individualism whereas, others may identify with collective conformity. Unfamiliarity to culture may affect the effective management of resources. Employers are prompted to a new kind of thinking owing to the rising disparity in cultures at the workspace. Discrimination in the workplace due to cultural difference can create misunderstanding and block effective communications between members working in a team. It may create high employee turnover or may affect the organization with matters of legal considerations. For example, in America, individualistic thinking and upfront competitive behavior is a positive trait. On the other hand, in certain Asian countries such as Japan people believe in conforming to group and reserve a more formal and introverted approach. In such a culturally different context, it is required that the employers adopt a more holistic approach while initiating communication. The language of communication should bear a mark of respect and should also focus on the nonverbal communication signals of the target culture. Some cultures may not initiate direct communication and in such cases, the managers should resort to analyzing behavioral patterns like eye contact and body posture. Hence, it is necessary to form a mode of communication which is most potent in a given cultural context.
Companies that have transgressed cultural boundaries to expand their business must have a specific cultural competency programme to address the cross-cultural employee force. The programme should cover tasks such as role play, personal anecdotes in journals to improve the employee’s ability to organize and express their feelings. Expressions will help deal with issues like depression and alienation in a culturally different condition. Communication competency in the cultural context can be improved by using communication in a relational context than a situation-specific context and by shifting from an exclusive native perspective to a more expansive and integrated culture-centric perspective.
Therefore, enhancing the communication and behavioral skills of employees is critical to an organization’s success. The changing times call for an integration of a culturally diverse workforce that is tolerant of differences. Cultural coherence in the workplace is difficult but not impractical. Proper analysis of culture and personality traits can upgrade the professional mindset. A creative and collective learning process filled with empathy towards all cultures can enhance performance in a business situation. Group discussions and particular one-to-one conversations where an employee can express their expectations and shortcomings may help in creating the correct strategies required to develop their skills, necessary for surpassing their performance level.