by Shiivani Aggarwal
Today’s global marketplace regularly requires employees, and even entire companies, to shift base and relocate to international locations. In such scenarios, individuals could find themselves facing several challenges such as language barriers and cultural as well as lifestyle differences. Due to a lack of cultural training, the interpersonal and professional relationships of employees might suffer. Different verbal and non-verbal styles of communication could cause misunderstandings and severed ties with colleagues, leaving the recently-relocated employees in a state of despair. Further, those having to leave behind their spouse or families could also find themselves feeling lonely or depressed. Providing cultural training to these employees helps ‘soften the blow’ and allows them to ease into the completely new culture.
Aspects of cultural training
Cultural training encompasses everything from how to dress to how to address people in a particular country. It can be classified into Business Training and Living Training. While Business Training revolves around business ethics and best practices in a particular organization or country, Living Training helps people settle down and build interpersonal relationships.
Business Training. It is imperative for organizations to provide robust business training to individuals as they will represent the company in the foreign location. Business training involves educating employees about business ethics and behaviour and etiquettes specific to the location they are moving to. It also teaches acceptable ways of interacting with colleagues, appropriate dressing styles and body language, and multiple miscellaneous parts of the country’s work culture. For example, if someone is moving to Japan, it would be imperative for them to know their specific styles of meeting and greeting different people. In some countries, there might be stringent rules against employees and bosses sitting together whereas in other places, it might be perfectly fine and even encouraged. When employees understand the influence of different cultures on the work environment, it is easier for them to comfortably adjust with the cultural changes without breaking any pre-set rules.
Living Training. Through Living training, future expatriate employees learn self-awareness. Trainers help them understand their role in their new team and the areas in which they can improve themselves in terms of interpersonal skills. This motivates individuals to learn and grow in the new environment they are placed in.
Cultural Training. While cultural training is important for an employee’s image in the workspace, it is also necessary for his or her own mental stability. Often, when people are relocated overseas, they can suffer from ‘cultural shocks’ where they feel overwhelmed by a starkly different culture. Cultural training allows employees to familiarize themselves with the behavior and communication patterns of a particular group of people. They also help them increase their tolerance level towards different religions, cultures and behaviors.
In fact, a very important aspect of cultural training is religious awareness. Employees moving to a country where a majority of the people practice a particular religion, require sensitization towards the religion. If unfamiliar with the sensibilities, beliefs and practices of different religions, they could inadvertently offend someone and mar their own image within their workplace or outside of work. In acutely sensitive cultures, such an innocent mistake can even be a cause of threat to one’s life or civil freedom.
Seeing cultural training as an investment
Employers often make the mistake of perceiving cultural training as a cost burden and an unnecessary practice. However, employees who are relocated without any cultural training can feel pressured and are more likely to want to return home. This can spell disaster for employers who have already spent a lot of money on the overseas shift. This is where training and education play a vital role. Employers need to put in more efforts at ensuring overseas employees receive adequate cultural training, who will then be motivated to put in more effort into settling down in their new home and workplace. When employees are prepared to tackle the cultural differences they will experience, they have an easier transition into their new role. Such employees have higher levels of self-confidence and self-worth. They are also more productive and efficient at their jobs. So, it is important for employers to see cultural training as an investment that will eventually give them returns in the form of well-settled expatriate employees who make their country as well as the organization look good across the world.
Consequences of lack of cultural training
A lack of cultural training has several downsides for the company as well as the employee himself. An employee who ends up traveling to a foreign land with absolutely no knowledge about the culture and customs can find himself feeling lost in the unfamiliar environment. Such feelings of detachment from one’s own community and alienation within a new environment can cause numerous mental and physical ailments. These include mood swings, anxiety and depression which can escalate to more serious problems.
On the work front, such alienation can negatively affect an employee’s productivity which directly or indirectly translates as a loss for the company. Employees who find it impossible to fit into the culture of their new home can find it hard to concentrate on their work. They may find it impossible to form interpersonal relationships within the workplace so feelings like boredom and loneliness can also crop up. Thus, employees lose out on both personal and professional satisfaction, leading to complete burnout.
In case of extreme dissatisfaction, often employees push companies to relocate them back to their country. This costs the company double the amount on relocation while also losing out on an essential human resource within the team that the employee was meant to join overseas.
The ROI that a company computes in terms of relocating an employee overseas goes haywire in such cases and companies can undergo significant losses due to the same.
The benefits of cultural training for companies and employees
All the above mentioned consequences can considerably mar the profits as well as the reputation of a company. A simple process that imparts knowledge about the culture and customs of the chosen international location can help an organization avoid such a scenario. Cultural training will be able to mentally prepare an employee for his new home.
Cultural training programs also help employees realize their own worth as only exceptional employees would be chosen to represent a company in a foreign land. Once employees know that they are indispensable cogs of the organization’s setup, they try harder to fit into the new setup. This leads to more successful and lucrative relocations.
When employees are prepared for their new environment, they seamlessly take all the changes thrown at them in their stride and are motivated due to the fact that they already know what they were going to experience. Such motivated employees perform with added efficiency and end up contributing more to the company than they were in the first place. Companies therefore benefit immensely from cultural training before relocation of employees. Employees, in turn, are happier, have higher job satisfaction and find it easier to make friends and settle into the new location.
Evidently, cultural training is important for both employee morale and company profits. Culturally trained employees can flourish in any location they are sent to and provide high ROI on employee relocation for the company. In today’s day and age, where overseas expansion or relocation is inevitable and necessary, cultural training can act as a catalyst to smoother relocation which is irrevocable and stable until the company requires otherwise.
Shiivani Aggarwal is the Chief Executive Officer of Formula Group, an integrated mobility solutions company.
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