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Nowadays, with the globalisation, operate internationally has become one of the most important things to do for companies. Indeed, as we know, in each industry most of the big players operate abroad. This is the case for the telecommunication industry especially now with the liberalisation and the deregulation of this sector who was hold by the public sector before. In this context the competition between telecommunication companies has increased and operate abroad become a necessity to stay competitive. For example in the French telecommunication industry companies go mostly to Morocco, Algeria, and Tunisia because they are francophone countries so they can implant call center over there without the language barrier. Moreover in this world area the telecommunication sector is growing faster than in developed country because they are still people not equipped with telecommunication services, so they are more potential customers. This happen not only in Africa but in every developing country like some countries in Asia.
In this context companies have to think about some issues than can cause challenges to run the process of internationalisation. Culture shock is one the issues and I am going to explain what is it with relevant academic research.
Before attempting to define Culture shock we have to understand what is Culture. Geert Hofstede (1981) states "Culture is the collective programming of the human mind that distinguishes the members of one human group from those of another. Culture in this sense is a system of collectively held values." Another definition by Edgar Schein suggest that "Culture is the deeper level of basic assumptions and beliefs that are shared by members of an organization, that operate unconsciously and define in a basic 'taken for granted' fashion an organization's view of its self and its environment." We understand that culture is the values, the beliefs, the tradition, the languageâ€¦ shared by a group of people. This group of people act and live in a similar way but in a different way than another group of people from a different culture. In that respect we can distinguish a multitude of culture at different levels (culture of a country, culture of an organisation, culture of generationâ€¦).
Following this idea culture shock would be to integrate a different culture from ours and be "choked", disorientated and disturbed. This "shock" would happen when the expatriate understand the differences between his previous environment and the new one.
According to Kalervo Oberg (1954), who was the first anthropologist to introduce the term Culture shock, "Culture shock is precipitated by the anxiety that results from losing all our familiar signs and symbols of social intercourse. These signs or cues include the thousand and one ways in which we orient ourselves to the situations of daily life". He said also that when somebody come into a new culture "he or she is like a fish out of the water" because all of his familiar habits disappear. Other experts of culture shock assert that everybody who leave abroad for a long or a short time undergo with more or less intensity the culture shock effects. This is why it is essential for companies to care about this before to expand internationally and send employees abroad.
According to Oberg with can identify four stages in the culture shock process:
The honeymoon stage: It is the first step experimented by the expatriate. It can be characterised by a feeling of euphoria and curiosity caused by the novelty. The employee will have a strong interest for the host country to discover and visit it. Usually this stage should last for few weeks but it can be from the first few days to 6 months depending on circumstances.
The crisis stage: This step happens when the employee starts to realise that some aspects disturb him while at the previous stage he was fascinated by these same aspects. The expatriate experiences the differences between his own country and the host country, he loses his grounding and has to face the real conditions of life, by the way small issues can become large issues. During this stage the employee can become aggressive and hostile towards his host country. We can observe the phenomenon of ghettoization, the employee meet up with countrymen and criticise lot of aspects of the new culture often these are stereotypes not objective. If the expatriate does not overcome this stage he can go back home.
The adjustment stage or recovery: In this stage the employee start to be open to the new culture. He still has difficulties but he adopts a new attitude towards them: "this is my cross and I have to bear it" (Oberg, 1960) he is even able to joke about his own difficulties in the host country instead of criticise. The expatriate find new grounding and replace his former habits by new ones. He becomes to be able to see the culture differences with more objectivity and start to overcome issue that he cannot before because of this lack of objectivity.
The adaptation stage or mastery: In this step the employee do not only accept the new culture but he begins to enjoy it, he is confident and satisfied about his expatriation and has the feeling to have succeed it.
Like Oberg said "the environment does not change. What has changed is your attitude towards it."
Other writers like Black and Mendenhall have illustrated these four stages by the following U-curve.
Ward, Furnham and Bochner (2001) have developed another model guided by questions concerning the maintenance of heritage culture and relations with other ethno cultural groups. This model of acculturation presents the possible outcome after go through a culture shock.
We can distinguish four different acculturation attitudes according to Ward, Furnham and Bochner (2001):
Assimilation: The expatriate adopts completely the host culture and rejects his culture of origin.
Separation: In this case it is the host culture that is totally rejected. Norms, values and behaviours from the original culture are stronger in the mind of the expatriate. This can lead to racism, ethnocentrism and segregation.
Marginalisation: The expatriate does not find his grounding neither in the host culture nor his own culture. He feels at home nowhere and sees both cultures as equal but incompatible.
Integration: The expatriate finds his grounding in the host culture as well as in his original culture. He sees both cultures as equal and compatible so he feels at home in both. He becomes multicultural.
Another theory by Ward, Furnham and Bochner (2001) suggest that culture shock can be composed into three components: Affect, Behaviour and Cognitions. This model called ABC attempts to explain how people react when they exposed to a new culture according to this three components.
Affect: This component is about how people feel. It's related to the feelings of stress, anxiety and confusion when the expatriate is face to an unfamiliar environment and is overwhelmed by it.
Behaviour: This is about how people behave. It's related to misunderstandings and communication problems because norms, rules, and conventions vary across cultures. The expatriates behave in an inappropriate way because of his lack of cultural knowledge of the host country.
Cognitions: This component is about how people perceive themselves and others. "People interpret material, interpersonal, institutional, existential and spiritual events as cultural manifestations, and these vary across cultures. When cultures come into contact, such established 'verities' lose their apparent inevitability" (Ward, Furnham and Bochner (2001)) and it changes how people from different culture see each other, how they regard themselves.
Cortés (2002) has identified 4 causes of culture shock:
Conflict between the culture of the expatriate and the host culture: Some aspects of one culture are not necessary valid in another culture.
Communication failure: The expatriate is face to a new language, new behaviours and new non-verbal language (gestures, expressionâ€¦)
Loss of grounding and codes: The employee loses his cultural models of interpretation that had always helped to understand his environment.
Identity crisis: The expatriate loses track of who he is because he evaluate the host culture from his own culture. So he sees the host culture from a negative aspect and he can reject it and blame it for his unease.
Three other causes of culture shock has been identified in the psychology of culture shock' s book by Ward, Furnham and Bochner (2001):
Cultural differences: This aspect is the same described by Cortés (2002) with conflict between cultures. It is simply the difference between the home and the new culture. A paradox is that it seems to be easier to adapt to a new environment when the culture and the area geographic are farer than closer from home (Janssens, 1995).
Individual differences: This point refers to the differences between individual to be able to adapt to a new environment, to deal with new situation. These differences are often characterised by demographic variables like age, sex, educationâ€¦
Sojourn experience: It refers to the previous experiences that the expatriate has already done, especially in the framework of the host culture (previous travel, cultural briefings, language training, tips from members of the host societyâ€¦)
Culture shock can give some physical and psychological symptoms to the expatriate. Marx says that the employee can feel isolated, anxious worried, helplessness. By the way his job performance is reduced. Oberg found also some symptoms but more physical like excessive washing hands, excessive concern about drinking water, food, dishes, and bedding, eruption of the skin, insomnia lack of appetite.
II/ Recommendations to minimise culture shock
In the first part we have seen the different stages of a culture shock and the different aspects that an individual go through during a culture shock. We have also seen the different causes and symptoms create by a culture shock. In this part we are going to see three recommendations who can permit to companies to reduce the effects of a culture shock undergo by their employees who go abroad.
Cross Cultural and Intercultural Training
Before to send employees abroad some companies organise cross-cultural training seminar in order to teach them knowledge, skills and competencies and make them aware on the differences of norms, values and beliefs of the new culture. If the cross-cultural training is doing well it can give real benefits for future expatriates, they say that "it makes their moves easier, especially when it focuses on practical information about their host country" but if the cross cultural training is doing poorly they say that "it's a waste of money and time" (The New York times, January 2004).
According to the survey report of Global Relocation Trends in 2012 81% of companies provide cross-cultural training to their employees while in 2001 it was 63%, so we can observe an increase of almost 32% in 11 years. In this same survey (2012) 85% of companies say that cross-cultural training was a good or a great value for the success of expatriate assignment while it was 81% in 2001. Even if the amount of this rate is high and satisfactory it doesn't increase as well as the rate of number of cross-cultural training provided by companies, indeed it increase only of 4,90%. In that respect one might ask how companies can provide the most effective and valuable cross-cultural training for their employee.
Because cross-cultural training is expanding it become a good business for some companies. Indeed nowadays we can observe big companies who came in this sector and provide cross-cultural training while before it was provided by individuals or small consultancy groups. The result is that large firms often provide "mass cross-cultural-training" not focuses enough on the individual and his specific needs. For example Martina Nelson who is an expatriate in Philippines from Germany said that her cross-cultural training failed because the trainers talked exclusively towards Americans. "It was all oriented toward what an American expat would want to know," there was no one there who could understand what a European would want." (The New York times, January 2004). In that respect we can understand the risk of failure is more important because cross-cultural training are less focused on individual.
Also because it is still an industry largely unregulated companies have to be careful when they choose a cross-cultural trainer. He has to be competent and in correlation with the needs of people who is going to teach. Like Gary M. Wederspahn said "there is not yet a firmly established or generally recognized course of professional development for interculturalists."
Black and Mendenhall (1990) reviewed studies that evaluated the effectiveness of cross cultural training and they found that in general cross cultural training are effective and useful in order to reduce the culture shock. Cross-cultural training improve the performance job abroad of employees because they are more aware of the host country culture and they have more knowledge and skills in terms of interpersonal relationship.
Other researchers (Deshpande and Viswesvaran, 1992) found that cross-cultural training have a positive impact on the five following variables: "self development of trainees, perception of trainees, relationship with host nationals, adjustment during sojourn, and performance on the job".
Finally Sheida Hodge (2000) notes "Careful preparation and training can prevent costly problems down the road. Learning the proper skills for dealing with other cultures can reduce or eliminate the negative impact of culture shock. "
Selection of the good employee
Even with a good cross-cultural training if the employee has not the aptitude to live and work abroad he cannot succeed his expatriation and he will have a negative culture shock. This is why companies have to select well the appropriate expatriate.
Often employees who do not manage to go through the culture shock do not have the skills and knowledge necessary to cope with a new environment. They are not adaptable to live abroad. Like Sheida Hodge (2000) says "the best defense against culture shock is knowledge of how other cultures operate". For this reason companies have to look for an employee who is adaptable to live abroad. Some people are the bests in their job but they are unable to have the same high job performance in new environments while some people are doing their job properly without very high performance but they can excel abroad because they have a high capacity to be adaptable. Often companies send overseas their best employees in terms of work competencies but they do not look for their aptitude to live and work in a foreign country. In that respect the recruitment process has a significant importance because a bad recruitment can lead to a failure for the employee and the company in terms of expatriation.
With the helps of my different reading I can point out in general the following criteria involved in the recruitment process:
Technical skills: This criteria refers essentially to the job. It is done to see if the employee has the technical skills needed to do the job properly. However this criteria does not reveal if the employee has the aptitude and the character traits needed to do his job in a new environment
Ability of the candidate to adapt to a new culture: This can be measured with questionnaires, cultural test intelligence but the interpretation of this test are really different from one culture to another and often the majority of tests are Anglo-Saxons so they are marked by the Anglo-Saxons culture. In that respect the personality traits are difficult to analyse with only tests but we can use personal interview as well.
Family situation: The Company has to care about the family situation of the candidate; is he or she alone? With spouse? Children?... According to the survey (2012) of Global Relocation Trends companies tends to recruit someone who is in couple.
Characteristic of the host country: This criteria is very important in the recruitment process because according to countries the characteristics of the appropriate managers are not the same. For example in the Asiatic culture men are really reluctant to receive order from women managers.
Language skills of the host country: The future expatriate has to be fluent in the language of the country where he is going in order to not have communication problem.
Edgard Schein (1990) identified 8 career anchors of an employee: Technical/Functional competence; General managerial competence; Autonomy/Independence; Security/Stability; Entrepreneurial/Creativity; Service/Dedication to a cause; Pure challenge; Lifestyle.
This concept can help companies to identify which candidate fit with which career anchor and as a result to identify which candidate is the most appropriate, the most ready and the most able to perform in a new workplace culturally different. Indeed certain career anchor leads more easily to international mobility than other. For example people from career anchor who are technical, managerial or autonomy would be more able to accept a work abroad than people from security or lifestyle career anchor.
Repatriation: Going back home
The return in his own country can be difficult as well as was the departure; the repatriate can go through a reverse culture shock. This reverse culture shock has the same characteristic than a classic culture shock but it operate when the employee who was abroad go back home (second part of the "W curve"). The re-adaptation in his own country can take more or less time and occur with more or less difficulties. The re-adaptation in the former workplace does not always go well as well as it should. The statistic says that an expatriate executive has more chances to quit the job than an executive who did not go abroad. "Among international assignees who left the company, respondents reported 22% left while on assignment; 24% within one year of repatriation; 26% between the first and second year of repatriation; and 28% over two years after repatriation". (Global Relocation Trend 2012)
To illustrate this we can see in the following graphic that the lack of consideration of a repatriate was noted as the element of human resource management that created the greatest dissatisfaction among French expatriates in the investigation of the organisation CEM International.
To overcome this problem companies should before the departure arrange a meeting with the expatriate and write together a formal guarantee that explained what would be the job of the expatriate after his stay abroad. This agreement can limit the job insecurity felt by the expatriate when he will think about: what will be my place, job and role in the organisation after my return? With this the company and the expatriate can take the entire benefits of the period of the expatriation.
The company can also propose the role of providing the communication between the host company and the home company in order to keep the expatriate in touch with the home company and employees. Moreover the company can provide a kind of cross-cultural seminar but for repatriation. This seminar will explain the possibility of reverse culture shock. To finish we know that employees during the period of expatriation have a lot of financial benefits but when they come back the loss of these benefits can be difficult to assimilate. In order to resolve this problem companies can create system of financial aid to help employees to adapt to their change of situation regarding financial aspect.
The process ties to the return of the expatriate is largely less developed than the departure process. A research made by Bossard and Peterson (2005) has demonstrated that 65% of expatriates have never received briefing from their company about their coming back. 20% said that their skills and competencies acquired abroad has not been utilised after their return. Another research made by Lazarova and Caligiuri (2001) explains that only 10% of expatriates have been informed about changes in the organisation.
This two researched revealed that the process ties to return of expatriate and also the follow-up have to be improved by companies in order to improve the expatriate process and to reduce the culture shock and the reverse culture shock.