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Business Research: Challenges in a Cross-Cultural Management
Cross-cultural management can be a difficult field for managers that lack experience in a cross-cultural environment. This form of management requires managers to provide additional attention to employee needs. They will need to ensure that the workplace caters to the needs of different cultures and does not promote discrimination. The main goal of cross-cultural management is to provide an efficient and productive workplace where different cultures interact. However, managers face various issues and challenges in achieving this goal. Cross-cultural managers need to address the challenges regarding parochialism, individualism, ethnocentrism, cultural distance, and culture shock.
Cross-Cultural Management Definition
Cross-cultural management is a field that is concerned with the behavior of employees in a cross-cultural environment. According to Alder & Gunderson (2008), cross-cultural management studies people’s behavior and includes the proper training of manpower to work in a multicultural workplace (cited in Barmeyer et al., 2019). Adler (2008) defined the concept as a reference to employee behavior that reflects their efficiency in working with individuals from different cultures (cited in Jain & Pareek, 2019). These definitions imply that cross-cultural management deals with proper employee behavior, productivity, training, and mindset in a cross-cultural environment.
The issues that cross-cultural management faces include the language barrier, conflicting ideals, and discrimination. While addressing these factors is integral in cross-cultural management, it is important to understand that they are consequences of the main challenges, such as parochialism and ethnocentrism. Jain & Pareek (2019), wrote a paper that briefly discussed parochialism, individualism, ethnocentrism, cultural distance, and culture shock as the main barriers in cross-cultural management. The factors that the researchers discussed effectively described the main sources of cross-cultural management issues. This paper will expand upon their discussion and provide further analysis regarding these factors.
Parochialism is a way of thinking that can create a division between individuals with different backgrounds. According to the Cambridge Dictionary, parochialism is a narrow point of view where an individual is only interested in their own ideas, culture, needs, and other matters. In a cross-cultural workplace, this can lead some employees to act selfishly and disregard other’s cultures. They may practice cultural behaviors that other employees may find uncomfortable or disrespectful. This can lead to workplace conflicts and create an unproductive environment. Since international businesses have wider scopes, employees must learn to adapt to and respect other cultures. Managers should promote non-parochialistic behavior to protect each employee’s cultural needs or identity.
Managers must be aware that parochialistic behaviors may be unintentional. For example, an international organization that employs mostly Christian employees may practice praying before every meeting. Managers may insist that this practice should be mandatory. If the organization employs non-Christian individuals, the prayer may make the other employees feel uncomfortable. This form of parochialistic behavior is unintentional since it is a common practice in most Christian organizations. However, this harmless act can cause other employees to feel out of place and some may even feel disrespected.
Individualism is a concept that refers to an individual’s independence. In a work environment, individualism may refer to employees that mainly focus on their output instead of the collective goal. Depending on the organization, this behavior can be beneficial or damaging. An organization, like a real estate agency, can greatly benefit from individualism as it will promote productivity among its sales agents. In contrast, a software development company can suffer from individualism since its process requires different departments to complement each other. These examples indicate that individualism is not inherently unproductive but can be integral in developing a harmonious work environment.
In a cross-cultural environment, individualism may promote self-interest which can lead to cultural conflicts. Individualistic employees, similar to parochialistic individuals, may tend to disregard the culture of their co-workers. For example, an employee from a collective culture may become more productive through a collective work environment and so the managers promote a collective operation. An individualistic employee may not engage in the collective operation and choose to focus on producing their output. This can lead the employee from a collective culture to perceive their co-worker as selfish or uncommunicative. However, Morris (2019) stated that the concept of individualism and collectivism are always present in every organization. Managers must be aware of this fact and balance the two concepts to create a productive work environment.
Ethnocentrism is a significant challenge in cross-cultural management as it promotes unhealthy behaviors. The Cambridge Dictionary defined the term as the belief that a particular culture is superior to others. Sumner (1906) described ethnocentrism as the idea that one culture is the center of all things and an individual only perceives other cultures in relation to theirs (Straw & Kramer, 2005, as cited in Tripathy, 2019). Ethnocentrism promotes the idea that an individual’s culture is the truth which can lead to various conflicts in a cross-cultural environment. An employee may perceive their co-workers as lower classes or members of an opposing group. For example, an ethnocentric Christian may label an agnostic co-worker as a sinner. They may show antagonizing behavior towards their co-worker and even avoid working with them. This will lead to an unproductive work environment and possibly harassment cases.
While ethnocentrism can promote aggressive and antagonizing behaviors, it is important to note that some actions may be unconscious. Tripathy (2019) stated that certain studies revealed that ethnocentric behaviors can be conscious or unconscious. Conscious behaviors include aggressive and antagonizing behaviors toward other cultures while unconscious behaviors are due to a lack of knowledge regarding other cultures. Going back to the example regarding prayers before meetings in a cross-cultural environment, this behavior can be a form of unconscious ethnocentrism. The individual performing or mandating the prayer may have the idea that everyone in the organization shares the same religion . Managers can easily address this form of ethnocentrism through education and by promoting cultural awareness.
Cultural distance is a significant factor in cross-cultural management as it refers to many cultural factors. According to Beugelsdijk et al. (2017), cultural distance is the difference between an individual’s home culture and host culture. Managers can measure this difference by identifying nationalities, languages, social structures, religions, economic conditions, political systems, and other factors. Countries with similar cultural factors like religion, languages, and political systems will have a low cultural distance while countries with different cultural factors will have a high cultural distance. The concept plays an integral role in an employee’s ability to adapt to a new environment (Jain & Pareek, 2019). A low cultural distance will allow an employee to quickly adapt to a new country while a high cultural distance can lead to various issues regarding employee behavior and health. Managers who transfer employees to a different location tend to face these challenges which require them to exercise better cross-cultural management techniques.
The Japanese practice of “Hirune” is a good example of a cultural factor that can cause high cultural distance. Some Japanese businesses promote the practice of “Hirune” in their organization where employees can sleep during lunch breaks. However, in most American organizations, lunch breaks are exclusively for eating. A Japanese employee transferring to a U.S.-based office may try to incorporate the practice into their daily schedule. This can cause conflict as some senior employees may find the behavior disrespectful or unprofessional. This type of issue affects both local and foreign employees and managers will need to address them fairly to avoid further conflicts.
Culture shock can greatly affect the well-being of employees in a cross-cultural environment. It is a condition that makes it difficult for an individual to adapt and perform due to insecurities and disorientations (Chaney & Martin, 2011, as cited in Jain & Pareek, 2019). An individual can experience the condition if they fail to properly manage the cultural distance between their home and host country. Culture shock can cause employees to lose self-confidence, feel isolated, feel homesick, and feel insecure. An employee transferring to a new country may feel lonely due to the different language, social structure, and food. They may feel overwhelmed due to the sudden change from one culture to another. Culture shock does not only affect an employee’s work productivity but can also have a significant effect on mental health.
Managers will need to address parochialism, individualism, ethnocentrism, cultural distance, and culture shock to develop a harmonious cross-cultural environment. They will need to utilize various techniques and ideas that will allow them to promote productivity and other healthy work behaviors. They will need to find solutions regarding each challenge and apply theories that will help in their cross-cultural management. Some of these solutions include balancing two cultures, providing equal opportunity, compatibility assessment, and mandatory seminars.
Balancing Two Cultures
Multiple cultures are present in a cross-cultural environment . Some will have two cultures while others will have more than two. Jayasundera & George (2017) conducted a study that revealed that employees prefer to have harmonious working relationships in a cross-cultural environment. This data shows that most employees will not actively try to antagonize co-workers from other cultures. To avoid any potential cultural conflicts, managers can aim to develop a balance between the cultures present in the workplace. For example, Jayasundera & George (2017) stated that the language barrier is a common hindrance in harmonious cross-cultural relationships. Managers can strike a balance in the different cultures by establishing a common language that all employees can understand. For most organizations, this can be the English language as most countries learn to speak and read in English. The balance will avoid misunderstandings between employees and promote a transparent work environment.
Providing Equal Opportunity
Conflicts in a cross-cultural environment can arise due to unequal opportunities for employees. It can promote individualistic and ethnocentric behaviors in employees as they begin to feel cultural discrimination. Jayasundera & George (2017) revealed in their study that employees desire equal opportunities between different cultures. Employees want to experience a fair and balanced performance assessment that rates each employee by their performance and not by their culture. Managers must ensure that they are providing equal opportunity to their employees. They need to be transparent in some aspects of their decision-making to show employees that opportunities are available for everyone. Additionally, managers must avoid providing opportunities to individuals solely for the fact that they are from a different culture. While this type of action can benefit individuals from different cultures, some employees may see it as discrimination against the locals.
Managers can employ compatibility assessment before assigning an employee to a cross-cultural environment. A compatibility assessment can help managers choose individuals with high tolerance against culture shock and low cultural distance. The assessment can also allow managers to avoid assigning employees with individualistic, parochialistic, and ethnocentric tendencies to a cross-cultural environment. The assessment can be in a form of a test, interview, or other data-gathering methods where the manager can assess an individual’s personality, behavior, and compatibility with the foreign culture. A compatibility assessment can be essential in ensuring employee productivity and smooth business operations.
Mandatory Seminars on Cross-Cultural Environment
Some of the issues regarding parochialism, individualism, and ethnocentrism are due to an employee’s lack of awareness of a foreign culture. Managers can address this lack of awareness through mandatory seminars for employees in a cross-cultural workplace. The seminars can be monthly sessions where employees spend a couple of work hours learning about proper behavior in a cross-cultural environment. These regular mandatory seminars will instill ideals in employees regarding the organization’s expectations and potentially reduce conflicts regarding different cultures. Additionally, the seminars can be a group activity where employees from different cultures learn to efficiently work together.
Cross-cultural management is a tedious task that requires managers to address the challenges regarding parochialism, individualism, ethnocentrism, cultural distance, and culture shock. These factors negatively affect a cross-cultural workplace’s productivity. Parochialism, individualism, and ethnocentrism promote behaviors that can be discriminatory, disrespectful, and antagonizing to other cultures. Cultural distance and culture shock are conditions that can make it difficult for a cross-cultural employee to adapt to a foreign environment. However, managers can employ methods like balancing cultures, equal opportunities, compatibility assessment, and seminars to instill proper behaviors in their employees. Cross-cultural management is a daunting field that requires a skillful manager to maintain and develop.
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