Employee Engagement is one of the top “hot topics” in building business success today. It is a winning strategy for companies who are looking beyond traditional success drivers to add value and conquer the marketplace.
But when you are a global employer, how do you ensure employee engagement in a highly diverse cultural environment? Every culture is different – are there common denominators for engagement, or do we need to address each group individually? The answer is “both”.
So, what is common? In a recent roll-out of our Corporate Values, we met with employees from our offices around the globe: North and South America, Asia, Europe, and Australia. When asked which Corporate Value was most important to them, the same one came out as number one in all our locations: “Teamwork”. Moreover, when asked why that value was important, employees also gave very similar answers, “because without teamwork you cannot actually achieve anything” being the most common statement.
"The challenge of cross-cultural interaction may at times be a baffling task, but the diversity and personal development opportunity this brings is a big engagement booster"
Similarly, we find that some of the critical best-practices of both business and organization management tend to depend less on culture and more on education and employment history: employees will evaluate the performance review and direction-setting process in a fairly consistent way across cultures, basing their assessment more on experience from previous employers, what they learnt through the education system and management textbooks rather than cultural values.
So where do cultural differences start to play a role?
Celebrating: In many of our Asian locations, the inclusion of the family or local community in our celebration is very important – also, longer full-day or half-day celebrations are appreciated and seen as a great investment of the organization leaders’ time. In these cultures, the workplace is almost seen as the extension of the family. However, in other regions, employees may be more appreciative when we keep our celebrations limited to just a few important events and when we organize these events during normal work hours, hence allowing a separation of work and personal life. And while we always enjoy meeting a colleague’s child or spouse that happens to show up for a surprise visit in our office, most employees would prefer not to bring their family members to our planned corporate celebrations.
Communicating: A question that we often ask ourselves as we operate across cultures is how to communicate with each other? This is one of the most discussed topics in the organization, employees that are in global and multi-country roles, which often come with influencing and coordination responsibilities, spend a significant amount of time deciphering the verbal and non-verbal communication styles of their overseas colleagues. The challenge of cross-cultural interaction may at times be a baffling task, but the diversity and personal development opportunity this brings is a big engagement booster.
Respecting each other: Our employees consistently rate “Respect” as a close second to “Teamwork” amongst our important values. Nevertheless, respect in an organization is challenging to monitor: on one hand, respectful behaviour is both perceived and tolerated very differently across cultures. As an example, while some cultures may be fairly tolerant of dominant or insensitive behaviours, these behaviours may be considered unacceptable elsewhere; the level to which employees may report concerns via surveys or an employee hotline is also highly variable – one may be led to believe the key driver for lack of reporting is fear of job loss, but this is not necessarily the case: loyalty to the group may be an more important factor, for example, as we notice in some countries where jobs are plentiful yet employees will keep quiet about the behaviour. At the opposite end of the spectrum, employees elsewhere may be driven by the same loyalty to the group to report any incident, however small, in an attempt to protect others from being exposed to distressing behaviour.
Human Resources departments and organization leaders need to be keenly aware of these challenges. They must build the right knowledge and processes to deal with such sensitive issues in this highly diverse and potentially confusing landscape – it is easy to be tempted into spending all your energy and resources on cases where the culture is to report, express concerns, liaise heavily with HR and Management when it comes to “Respect” – but engagement suffers in all occasions, whether slowly and quietly or in a highly visible way. A truly diverse organization will be well prepared to ensure the same level of respect for all their employees around the world and in return, will benefit from employees’ full engagement, wherever they may be.