Cultural Fit in the Workplace

In any international workplace assignment that fails, most often the reason for failure is culture shock. Culture shock is essentially where the assignee finds themselves in a new culture that is so different from their own that they struggle to cope with daily life, and eventually have to terminate the assignment.

What many fail to realise is that adaptation to a new culture extends well beyond a new language, or a simple list of dos and don’ts. In fact, culture shock happens to the vast majority of expatriates, and while many are able to adapt, it is still an issue to be taken very seriously. An expatriate from America, for example, might find issue with a relocation to France or Spain simply due to the structure of the work day; particularly in rural areas, there are lengthy times set aside for lunch and siestas, and dinners are not taken until late into the evening. It might be something that seems relatively small, but it completely changes a daily routine. 

When considering what cultures your employee might be best suited to, there are a number of factors to take into consideration. Most obviously the first consideration should be towards anything that could drastically affect legal rights and social status. For example, a white Western woman would find relocation to certain areas of the Middle East challenging due to very different attitudes towards women as secondary to men; she would very likely struggle to communicate with male colleagues, and wouldn’t, in some places, even be allowed to drive a car. In any Middle Eastern areas where religious views are very orthodox, this becomes even more of a problem. 

Key elements to a successful cultural fit include the same styles and attitudes of communication, trust, leadership, decision making, and even patience. These are all things that can be assessed by a HR department to assess candidates on their individual merits and styles. For example, in countries like India, communication and leadership styles that can be extremely upfront might appear aggressive to a candidate whose culture, or personal nature, is more understated. Because this ability to adapt is such an individualised thing, it’s hard to suggest particular cultures that are best suited to working with each other, since there are always exceptions to the rule. It very much depends on the candidate. 

Perhaps the most obvious example of where cultures are a lot easier to gel together, however, would be assignments between the likes of the USA, Canada, the UK, and even Australia and New Zealand. While each of these cultures have their own nuances, they are extremely similar in their cultural attitudes and share the same language. Yet, even besides this, the success of the assignment depends on the open mindedness of the individual candidate to other cultures, races and religions. An open minded, adaptable candidate is the perfect recipe for international success. 

Posted in categories: Culture & Languages, Expats, International