Samstag, 17. Dezember 2011

Indian workforce in cross cultural environment

Photo: (c) Kunstzirkus /
By Usha Amrit. In company recruitments in Europe a lot of emphasis is given to a potential candidate's social persona rather than just his or her mere qualifications and professional experience. I suppose, this takes more precedence if the candidate is a immigrant or a foreigner. One of the most important assessments is regarding how the candidate (being a foreigner) would adjust to the diverse work and cultural environment. This got me thinking of how Indians fare in this regard in comparison to workforce from around the world.

Germans or Dutch for instance are resistant to moving too far away from the town where they lived for a long time 'just' for a job. Given the uniformity in culture, language and religion across their country (or countries), they find diverse working environments (such as in a foreign country) a very important issue. We Indians can move to the four corners of the world 'just' for a job. We  possess a certain inherent flexibility when it comes to working in diverse environments. After all, it is not uncommon to find oneself working with colleagues from various parts of India, on an average in any work environment in India.  For instance, your Tamilian boss pairs you up with a Bengali colleague and under your tutelage is a Bihari who works in conjunction with a Andraite while you are working on a project outsourced from a European company. What are the chances of that happening given of course, that you are working in company that works on outsourced projects. Pretty high, wouldn't you agree?

In India, if you move 400 to 600 kilometers (not a big distance in India) from the place you currently stay, you are likely to find yourself in a place (outside work environment) where your lingual comfort zone does not exist. It is very likely that the people of the new geographical location speak in a different language than what you are accustomed to, their attire may be different and food habits are most certainly going to be different. Sometimes, you don't even have to leave the State.

Take the State of Karnataka, for example, travel from Bangalore where English or Hindi seems to be the widely spoken towards Hassan where it is good old Kannada that comes in handy, then move towards Coorg where Coorgi is spoken or move towards Mangalore where Tulu is spoken. Thanks to our colonial legacy, with English, the unofficial lingua franca of India, we communicate well in and outside workplace despite all the borders and boundaries. When I travel to North of India to Pathankot or South to Calicut, or to Guwhati in the East, however I need to reorient myself on various aspects, not just the lingual or culinary factors but there exist minor cultural differences as well. We Indians have done this for decades without ever giving it much thought. We are at ease working with eclectic mix of workforce as well as working in places far flung from homes.

How comfortable are we with working in entirely foreign atmospheres? Working outside the borders, perhaps in Europe or Middle East or Japan is tad different not due to lingual differences (which we are accustomed to) but  due to huge cultural issues. I do agree that despite all that flexibility and tolerance that one supposes comes with working in diverse environment within India, working in a cross cultural situation can be daunting. After all, being culturally tolerant is not the same as being culturally sensitive. Besides, working in a entirely foreign environment also requires knowledge and training of  working styles that vary from country to country. However,  I'd say given a rough survey of people across the world, we Indians with our innate flexibility are most likely to be at ease in having ourselves transposed and transported (given similar salaries and perks of course) to totally foreign work environments.


  1. Interesting article, but a few points I would like to make:

    - Candidate requirements in Europe: I wouldn't call it social persona, but generally soft skills, which in my 5 years working as a manager for at Indian company, I have found not to be so important in the training of Indian business executives. Looking at BPO, KPO and the like, Indian Manages are often very young, and recruitment is done based on university degrees, hardly any candidate has any work experience outside of university - if it is bar tending to earn some pocket money, or doing internships. Indians need to learn to lead - by experiencing to be led, and by slowly growing into their roles as managers. The smallest job teaches us 'Westerners' to listen to superiors, to earn our place, to work our butts off - not just academically. This might be a little bit off topic, but this is where I see the biggest difference, and if I were to hire anybody (no matter where they are from), this would be one thing I would look for. I don't want a person who demands the job, because they have a shiny certificate. I want a person who DESERVES the job for offering the package I expect from a good professional: good education, job experience of any kind, international experience (or at least openness), the right expectations and determination the job deserves, and of course some degree of sympathy. Growing in a job in Europe takes much longer than in India: a candidate who wants to become a manager within 2 years, goes straight off my list - most European companies cannot offer this, and don't want candidates who expect too much, because those expectations cannot be met (= employee will not be happy). Prove yourself and you will rise!
    - I think the statement that Germans or Dutch are reluctant to move locations is incorrect. This was the case 20 years ago, we all had to adapt to changing job markets, at least those of us who want good jobs. For university graduates, it is even expected to have lived in a foreign country.

    And the last point: Don't fool yourselves into finding a recipe of success for everything. You cannot be 100% TRAINED on different work styles, you need to understand and live them, and that means letting part of that foreign culture become part of your own - just the way I had to do it when working in India, in China, and in Latin America. Everything else is fake.

  2. "Thanks to our colonial legacy, with English, the unofficial lingua franca of India, we communicate well in and outside workplace despite all the borders and boundaries"

    I think you must be from the South, else you would be telling its pity that people dont learn their National Language "HINDI".
    ON the other hand those same people who dont speak HINDI are so excited and serious to learn German, French when they are in Germnay or France.But the same people when they are in HINDI speaking part of India dont show the eagnerness to learn HINDI.