As global workforces become the norm, HR must manage an increasingly diverse range of cultures. What difficulties do they face and how can they overcome them?
The advent of satellite TV and the internet has whittled away at national cultures to the extent that we may have begun to assume that everyone lives, acts and even works in a similar way. But that's not always the case. Global workplace furniture manufacturer Steelcase recently surveyed its European clients' ways of working, and the results, if not entirely unexpected, certainly provide food for thought.
The British are individualistic, self-controlled, class conscious and natural team workers, according to Steelcase. The Germans, however, are more conservative, place a greater emphasis on privacy and prefer a formal, hierarchical workplace. The Italians are hierarchical and bureaucratic, insisting on face-to-face meetings and preferring manager-led processes, whereas the French are more egalitarian and participative. At French meetings, it isn't uncommon for everyone to talk at the same time – yet decisions are still generally made by senior people. Italian meetings, which rarely start or end on time, involve lots of emotion and noise, but no-one expects decisions to be reached until much later.
And if the differences between our European neighbours are so stark, what of our colleagues in Asia and the US? Just as we accept that people bring their personalities to work, so we have to recognise that they also bring their cultures and associated outlooks and behaviours with them.
As global workforces become the norm, it's rare to find a company that doesn't recruit from a range of international backgrounds. And it's usually the HR team's responsibility to manage across this increasingly diverse range of cultures.
The potential pitfalls are legion – religious beliefs, language and cultural differences, professional behaviour, even the different ways a single company may have operated in various regions. And you don't have to work overseas to feel the impact of other cultures in the workplace.
The most important factor in dealing with any workforce is information and communication. It needs to be timely, accurate and equally accessible to all members of staff.
If a company gets this wrong and it hits the headlines, it can be very damaging to their reputation – as last year's press repor