Managing an International Workforce

Whenever an organization expands its operations to other countries, it tends to become multicultural and will then face the challenge of blending various cultures together. The managerial personnel entering another nation need to adjust their leadership styles, communication patterns and other practices to fit their host country. Their role is to provide fusion of cultures in which employees from both countries adjust to the new situation seeking a greater productivity for the benefit of both the organization and the people of the country in which it operates.

Read More:

  1. Human Resource Management from an International Perspective
  2. Managing Workforce Diversity
  3. Managing International HR Activities
  4. Selection Criteria for International Assignments

Barriers to Cultural Adaptation

  • Managers and other employees who come into a host country tend to   exhibit   different   behaviors   and   somewhat, see   situation   around them from their own perspectives. They may fail to recognize the key differences between their own and other cultures. These people are called, ‘parochial’.
  • Another category of managers called ‘individualistic’ place greatest emphasis on their personal needs and welfare. They are more concerned about themselves than the host country.
  • Another potential barrier to easy adaptation of another culture occurs, when-people are predisposed to believe that their homeland conditions are the-best. This predisposition is known as the ‘self-reference criterion’ or ‘ethnocentrism’. This feeling interferes with understanding human behavior in other cultures and obtaining productivity from local employees.

Cultural Distance

To decide the amount of adaptation that may be required when personnel moves to another country, it is helpful to understand the cultural distance between the two countries. Cultural distance is the amount of distance between any two social systems. Whatever may be the amount of cultural distance, it does affect the responses of all individuals to business. The manager’s job is to make the employees adapt to the other culture and integrate the interests of the various cultures involved.

Cultural Shock

When employees enter another nation they tend to suffer cultural shock, which is the insecurity and disorientation caused by encountering a different culture. They may not know how to act. may fear losing face and self-confidence or may become emotionally upset. Cultural shock is virtually universal. Some of the more frequent reasons for cultural shock are as follows:

  • Different management philosophies
  • New language
  • Alternative food, dress, availability of goods
  • Attitude towards work and productivity
  • Separation from family, friends and colleagues
  • Unique currency system

Many expatriates report difficulty in adjusting to different human resource management philosophies, the language, the different currency and work attitudes in another culture.

Overcoming Barriers to Cultural Adaptation

  • Careful selection of employees, who can withstand/adjust cultural shocks for international assignments is important.
  • Pre-departure training in geography, customs, culture and political environment in which the employee will be living will help for cultural adaptation.
  • Incentives and guarantees for better position will motivate employees for cultural adaptation in the new country.
  • Employees who return to their home country after working in another nation for sometime tend to suffer cultural shock in their own homeland. After adjusting to the culture of another nation and enjoying its uniqueness, it is difficult for expatriates to re-adjust to the surroundings of their home country. Hence, organizations need repatriation policies and programs to help returning employees obtain suitable assignments and adjust to the ‘new’ environments.

Read More: Cross-cultural preperation in employee training programmes

Cultural Contingencies

Productive business practices from one country cannot be transferred directly to another country. This reflects the idea of cultural contingency that the most productive practices for a particular nation will depend heavily on the culture, social system, economic development and employee’s values in the host country. Hence, the expatriate managers must learn to operate effectively in a new environment with certain amount of flexibility. Labor policy, personnel practices and production methods need to be adapted to a different labor force. Organization structures and communication patterns need to be suitable for local operations.

About Abey Francis

Abey Francis is the founder of MBAKnol - A Blog about Management Theories and Practices - and he's always happy to share his passion for innovative management practices. You can found him on Google+ and Facebook. If you’d like to reach him, send him an email to: [email protected]
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