The day of a regular working professional generally passes through a few common phases; namely the first half period, the post-lunch era and then the countdown-towards freedom! Surprisingly, or not, this is a common phenomenon across geographies! So, whether you’re a professional working in a developing market or an executive from one of the first world countries, human resources experience anxiety, boredom, interest and relief all throughout the same day. In order to break the monotony, more and more organizations arrange for some activity or the other like motivated Mondays and casual Fridays, just so that there is a positive buzz in the work space.
However, the matter of contention here is how different society’s (read cultures) perceive and tackle such situations. Although people may be trained in different areas of expertise, the training only focuses on enhancing the task, activity or output required of resources to deliver. No matter how experienced one may be, there is always a difference in culture that has an overarching influence in the day-to-day engagement of employees. This cultural difference can only be bridged when one spends more time in the existing culture and eventually blends into the system at large.
For a broader understanding of the differences, let’s club up the cultures as Eastern and Western. It is intriguing to recognize that despite the same experiences encountered by professionals on either side, they’re guided by completely different philosophies when they try to bridge this rather obvious gap in work cultures.
1. Organizational structures – Flexible vs Tall:
In most Eastern cultures, organizational hierarchies are well-defined. Instructions, orders and demands flow in a downward direction. The supervisor finds himself in greater capacity to delegate or even, at times, dictate terms to junior employees within the organization. Questions pertaining to work, if any, are seldom posed freely by the employees and even rarer cases are posed verbally. If there is a matter that needs to be discussed, supervisors and subordinates do so discreetly being fully aware of their social and work boundaries.
However, when we survey the situation in the West, the workplace seems to be slightly more democratic in nature. Questions from subordinates to the top management are appreciated. They’re considered as engaging because questions lead to refinement of the systems in place. And, communication is a two-way street.
But, in both the cultures, more often than not, it’s the ‘boss’ who generally has the last word in the discussion.
2. Addressing colleagues:
It is quite common in many workplaces in the Indian sub-continent for junior employees to address supervisors with suffixes such as ‘Sir’ or ‘Madam’ or ‘Saheb’ or ‘Ji’. This approach isn’t necessarily frowned upon or considered as taking one’s designation too seriously but it is a part of their culture where elders and seniors, both in age and hierarchy, are bestowed with a certain degree of respect.
Which is why it is slightly awkward for people from Eastern cultures working in the West in an environment where everyone in the organization is on a first name basis; even, the CEO.
But what needs to be recognized that in both cultures there is a high degree of professionalism and work ethic regardless of the manner in which one address his or her colleague or supervisor in the workplace.
3. Flow of discussing business transactions:
Businesses in the East find it necessary to find some sort of a common ground with their partners prior to going ahead and transacting business. This common ground may be anything ranging from having the same favorite sports team to having similar ethnic roots. This makes both parties comfortable in each other’s company and makes it easier for them to talk about collaborating businesses activities. Many businesses feel free to negotiate and re-negotiate terms of transactions even if the parties involved in the transaction have just reached a consensus on the same. They can do it because they’ve developed a comfortable understanding of their business approaches.
Most professionals working in the West follow a structured pattern when transacting business. They follow a linear format of discussion wherein once the parties have reached a consensus on a particular matter, that point is sealed and they move on to the next point on the agenda.
Both methods have their peculiarities, while one may believe the Eastern philosophy to be time-consuming and confusing, some may believe that the Western philosophy is distant and nonchalant.
It is needless to say that geographic boundaries are shrinking. Brands seemed to have dissolved the concept of what was previously ‘foreign’ because they have seamlessly integrated with the local fabric of things. Organizations have realized the shortcomings of ethnocentric and polycentric staffing and have graduated to geocentric staffing. The focus is now on recognizing different cultures and blending them to create an inclusive and innovative work culture.