support at the new locale
Organizational assistance in adjusting to work life at the
new branch is a source of succour for an expatriate. It is important that
expatriates integrate themselves into the culture of the new branch and
establish congenial work relations with their colleagues and associates. If they
experience difficulty getting socialized into the new branch, they will be
unable to perform effectively on the job. This then reduces their motivation to
cope with the new culture.
Mentoring enables expatriates to assimilate into their new places
of work and new countries of residence. Cultural anthropologist Marie Andersen, in her book Around the World in
Thirty Years, used the term 'informer' to describe the mentor who
continuously informs a newcomer on aspects of culture. According to Andersen,
having an informer is the key to gaining acceptance speedily in a new culture.
An expatriate's mentor informs him or her of the nuances of corporate culture,
as well as ethnic culture. Expatriates may prefer to be mentored by two people,
one for providing information about corporate feedback, and another for serving
as a link with ethnic culture.
Many Japanese companies connect expatriate families with host
families at destination countries. Kumaga (1991) records that Mitsui assigns mentors for their
international employees both at home and in the destination country.
A study of 1,100 Swedish expatriates by Torbiorn (1982) reports that all of
them were at least fairly satisfied with their experiences abroad, while some
were very satisfied. Part of the satisfaction stems from the fact that the
expatriates were motivated to venture overseas and experience a new culture.
They were recruited appropriately. Their companies gave them organizational
support. Torbiorn suggested that the expatriates were likely to be satisfied in
countries where the overall standard of living was similar to their own.
Similarity of language and religion also contributed to the expatriates' overall
sense of satisfaction. The companies and expatriates surveyed in this book
postulate that when expatriate motivation and organizational support are at
optimal levels, expatriates can experience satisfaction even in cultures
dissimilar from their own.
One method by which companies provide the necessary organizational
support to their employees is through the dissemination of uniform core values
at all their branches. Expatriates can then feel they are in a familiar
environment at least professionally. Nestlé has adopted this strategy.
(1995) has described how Unilever, by contrast, has branches across the
globe, each with its own corporate culture. The expatriates surveyed for this
book opine that they would prefer to work for an organization that disseminates
uniform core values across all its branches. This is parallel to the philosophy
propagated by Kets
de Vries and Mead (1992) for expatriates to conduct themselves: 'Truly
global leaders need a set of core values that will guide them in whatever
environment they may find themselves.' In other words, expatriates should have
strong values that they can draw on in order to have a sense of self.
Shell Corporation uses the expression 'the road to Hell is paved
with good intentions' in its expatriate training programmes, to illustrate that
despite good intentions, problems can still
arise when expatriates interact with host country nationals. According to Shell
expatriate trainer Gareth Evans, problems can arise because of a lack of trust
on both sides. The issue of trust then has to be addressed specifically.
Expatriates should ascertain, a month after they have arrived in a
new culture, whether local managers trust them. If trust has not been
established they should take remedial action, before the lack of trust
degenerates into distrust. Quite often expatriates may not recognize that trust
does not exist between themselves and the local managers because the latter do
not make known their reservations until the relationship is beyond salvage.
Expatriates who have not earned the trust of local managers often note that they
encounter a glass barrier when they try to reach out to local managers. A
mistake expatriates might make at this stage is to try to break through that
barrier. The more they try to break through that barrier, the more they alienate
themselves, and the more local managers recoil from them. The situation is
exacerbated when both sides are evaluative of each other, instead of being
objective. Being judgmental in circumstances where there is no trust is
tantamount to adding insult to injury. In cross-cultural situations, the process
of being evaluative will be coloured by cultural biases.
While many transnational corporations invest time, effort and
resources in easing expatriates into a new culture, very few prepare local
managers for the adjustments they have to make when accepting colleagues and
bosses from another culture into their fold. Local managers have to be educated
about the culturally determined behavioural patterns of expatriates, to obviate
avoidable misunderstandings. They should never be made to feel that 'rule by
expatriates' is being imposed on them.
In some countries, expatriates live and work under residence
permits granted because they hold specialized expertise not found locally.
Bahrain is an example. After getting independence from the United Kingdom in
1971, it has established a diversified range of industries including aluminum
processing, shipbuilding, iron and steel processing, furniture and door making,
and offshore banking. Wherever it was noticed that Bahrainis did not possess the
requisite specialized knowledge for managing any aspect of these industries,
expatriates were brought in from overseas (Ellement, Maznevski and Lane, 1990).
Expatriate managers are treated deferentially in Bahrain and occupy senior
positions in the firms that employ them. However, the residency permits can be
revoked whenever the Bahraini employing company decides that the expatriates'
services are not required. Expatriate managers of skill and competence prefer to
work for the Bahraini branches of global companies.
A US woman who worked in Bahrain for some time found that lack of
trust between US expatriates and Bahraini colleagues arose due to differences in
the perception of 'truth'. It seemed to her that ' "truth" to a Bahraini
employee was subject to an Arab interpretation, formed over hundreds of years of
cultural evolution' (Ellement, Maznevski and Lane, 1990). When a Bahraini manager
did not see something as the truth, it was not believed, and therefore not
accepted. A US manager convinced by facts might see the same matter as an
obvious 'truth'. Bahraini managers have quickly rejected US managers who have
gone to Bahrain inadequately prepared for such eventualities.
Expatriates from first-world countries need to understand the
implications of life in an Islamic country like Bahrain before they set foot
there, if they are to be accepted. 'To function successfully [in an Islamic
country like Bahrain], the expatriate must understand and learn to accept a very
differently structured society' (Gulf Daily News, 1987). Islam requires that Muslims
pray five times a day. Since the prayer timings are distributed across the day,
they need to pray at their place of work three times a day. A devout Muslim
could spend 10 minutes at a time in prayer, thus using half an hour a day of
company time in prayer. During the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan, it is
illegal for a Muslim in an Islamic country to work after 2 pm.
Differences of religion are not a bar to good professional
relationships or intercultural friendships. However, ignorance about religious
practices that impinge on workplace behaviour can lead to the irrevocable
breakdown of trust. An uninformed expatriate who comments to a Muslim
subordinate in an Islamic country, 'You could be so much more productive if you
were to pray in your off-office hours', is inviting trouble. An expatriate
manager is well advised never to comment on a local national's religion and
Female expatriate managers in countries like Bahrain have to
be prepared not only for overall cultural differences, but also for culturally
conditioned attitudes regarding women's role in society. Expatriate women
managers in Bahrain sometimes have to fight the opposition of Bahraini males to
having women in managerial positions.