Recognise This! – Each of us brings our own cultural heritage to work. Blending that into one powerful company culture is possible through strategic recognition.

I’ve talked a good bit this week about company culture, but it’s important in the “culture” discussion to also not lose sight of the personal culture each employee brings into the workplace. This is their cultural heritage and, as globalisation grows, becomes more complex even in companies that may have only one office or offices only in one country.

Jessica Lee, a first generation American of Korean descent, reminded me of this powerful lesson in a recent post on Fistful of Talent:

    “In my professional life, I quickly found a struggle between acting the way my parents and our culture would deem as appropriate and respectful, and what I have come to learn is necessary to be effective and successful in the Western business culture. Especially as an HR gal. Especially as a recruiter. To share my opinion so vocally, to push back, to look elders in the eye, or ever be so overt with how I ‘feel’… It’s all absolutely contrary to how I was raised to conduct myself.”

There are three aspects at play when considering cultural heritage in the workplace:

   1. Like Jessica, a colleague may different cultural expectations on appropriate workplace behaviour, even though they are native-born to the country.
   2. Global organisations are expecting dramatic uptick in international employee transfers, increasing the opportunity for cultural misunderstandings in the workplace.
   3. 23% of HR professionals believe “breaking down cultural barriers that make it difficult to create a truly global company is the biggest challenge facing HR executives over the coming 10 years.

When it comes to employee recognition in the workplace, there is no more effective method for creating a single “language” of appreciation across global workgroups. But there is also infinite possibility for inadvertently insulting a colleague by inappropriately phrased recognition or culturally inconsiderate rewards. That’s why I so strongly advocate for personal choice in rewards within the local country. I call this “street level delight” – letting an employee choose a personally meaningful and culturally relevant reward in their own neighborhoods, from merchants they know and trust.

Have you ever been insulted (accidently or otherwise) in the workplace based on cultural misunderstanding?