The Banana Verses the Banana Pepper

Banana and Banana Pepper-smallI was shocked every day when it came to the multicultural event of eating lunch. It was my first job and I was only a young teenager. I worked washing trucks for a meat packing company and several of the employees were Mexican immigrants. As a white suburbanite, I was used to pretty bland food and my new friends were used to very spicy food. I never got used to seeing them put hot sauce on every bite of every kind of food they ate. I could hardly believe my eyes when I saw one guy put a drop of the spicy condiment on a banana. It makes me smile to think about it even now.

This series is about multicultural leadership and we have looked at communication issues and     trust issues so far. Today we’re going to talk about human resource (HR) policies.

We can only scratch the surface here, but these are just a few important areas to consider when developing HR policies for multicultural teams and businesses.

1. Corporate culture versus local culture- For a multinational corporation, one important aspect is creating a corporate culture across the entire enterprise. If (probably more likely “when”) some of the corporate culture issues clash with local culture, which one takes precedence?

2. Employee relations- How deeply and and how people interact is somewhat determined by culture. This will effect relationships between employees when they come from different cultures. One example is handshakes. In America, a firm handshake is considered essential for making a good impression. In the Arab world, handshakes are very loose. How to reconcile the myriad of cultural differences that effect employee relations is important to consider.

3. Family practices- Family systems in different cultures vary immensely. Working spouses, maternal/paternal leave, vacation policies, and childcare are only a few of the major considerations. I remember sharing with a friend from another culture that 2 of our sons work at the same bank in the USA and he replied, “That would not be allowed in my country.” In China, I would often talk to spouses who were raising their child by themselves because the husband or wife was studying overseas for many years to benefit the extended family, while I know of few Americans who would make that kind of sacrifice. This shows the greater importance of the extended family in China and the nuclear family in the USA.

4. Career planning- Culture effects career planning in many ways. It is well known that an American will move a great distance away from their family for a relatively small bump in salary while and Indian will not be willing to move to another city or country for a much larger salary.

These are just a few of the problem areas that HR managers face in multicultural settings. They are serious matters and have great impact on any business or team working across cultural boundaries.

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