Thanks to advances in communications technology, even a small business operation can have clients and team members all over the world. While this is in many ways a good thing, cultural differences between team members can cause uncomfortable and expensive HR blunders.
It has long been common practice for companies to consider cultural differences when developing marketing and sales programs. Today, more and more companies are also taking these factors into account when it comes to HR matters like providing a healthy, engaging work environment.
In light of all this, we’ve gathered a list of some common mistakes HR departments can make when navigating cultural differences. Below, you’ll also find advice on how to provide a smoother and more synergistic employee journey going forward.
Mistake No. 1: Ignoring or Downplaying Problems
No one wants a tense office atmosphere. However, minimizing intercultural clashes or pretending they don’t exist at all will only make the problem worse.
It is essential to address problems as quickly, thoroughly, and directly as possible. Doing so is not only good for the company, but also for the employees involved. After all, no one wants to find out too late that they are on the chopping block for behaviors no one ever told them to correct! Such a lack of communication will only degrade trust between the company higher-ups and the rest of the employees.
You are a team, so function as one. Don’t withhold information or hope issues will simply resolve themselves, as this will only sow distrust.
Over-communicating is better than under-communicating. When in doubt, share more information rather than less. Be forthcoming with employees about challenges as they arise, and solicit their feedback when formulating solutions.
Also, be direct and diplomatic when addressing problems. Don’t play the blame game. Pick an appropriate time and place to sit down and discuss matters with anyone involved. Consider everyone’s perspective. Approaching problems with the goal of reaching a mutually beneficial solution will encourager people to let their guards down and work earnestly together.
Mistake No. 2: Taking the ‘One Size Fits All’ Approach
It is only natural to use knowledge gained from personal experience to solve familiar-seeming problems. However, it is essential to know your audience before acting! One size does not fit all, especially when it comes to multicultural and multinational teams.
Instead of acting out of habit to solve problems, evaluate your potential courses of action each and every time. New scenarios involving new people may require new solutions. Seek input from others when tackling these challenges — especially those who can help you navigate any cultural differences that may be at work.
Solution: Make Time for Face Time
When team members are scattered around the world, it can be easy to forget the importance of face-to-face communication. At Talentsoft, we’ve experienced this problem ourselves. We sometimes struggle to maintain a cohesive company culture with employees in so many different countries, particularly during times of rapid growth.
To solve this issue, people in leadership positions now travel more to meet with remote employees. Regular video calls have also become part of the office routine. Face-to-face contact leads to a more comprehensive understanding of individuals and their personality types, and knowing employees on such personal levels makes it easier to avoid HR blunders.
Mistake No 3: Misjudging a Culture’s Values
While it is important that all employees make an adequate salary, money is not the prime motivator for everyone. Different cultures have different values and different expectations for how they will be treated at work. Your decisions should always take cultural differences into account — even when it comes to seemingly simple things like vacation time, maternity leave, and the length of the daily lunch break.
Make sure every employee knows they are appreciated and valued beyond the bottom line by acknowledging what is important to them.
Solution: Identify and Respect Cultural Values
It is tempting to think that the “Global Village” afforded to us by developments in communication means we all have the same perspectives, but you must be vigilant of cross-cultural missteps. Make sure any companywide policies do not conflict with employees’ cultural values. This might mean keeping things open so that each locality can make policies that align with existing customs. In France, for example, lunchtime is sacred. Demanding that French employees take a half-hour lunch like their American counterparts could be disastrous.
Honoring the values of employees helps people feel heard, and it makes them feel like valuable parts of the team rather than cogs in the machine.
While the above is not an all-inclusive list, it can provide a good start for establishing or strengthening your organization’s multicultural team. The key is always to check in with employees, stay informed, and keep lines of communication open.
Alexandre Pachulski serves as the chief product officer at Talentsoft.