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For HR, managing the U.S. immigration process can be tough — but imagine being a foreign national moving to a new country and settling into a new workplace at the same time. As an HR professional, it’s up to you to develop an onboarding program that gives each employee his or her best chance at succeeding in your organization. As you fine-tune your new hire orientation process, keep in mind that your foreign national worker may need some extra attention.
Andy Molinsky, professor of international management and organizational behavior at Brandeis University, integrates the concept of cross-cultural management into his teaching to help future HR managers understand the challenges faced by international workers.
Here’s his advice for helping new foreign national employees acclimate to a new workplace:
First, gauge the individual’s character traits by monitoring him or her during your initial interactions.
“You want to be attuned to and aware of the background of the person that you’re interviewing,” Molinsky says. “Have a sense of what the challenges or differences might be from that person’s perspective and worldview at an interview or networking event, and ultimately when they start on the job.”
In addition to the barriers that language and accents introduce, social norms will also shape how foreign nationals engage with their coworkers.
“In the United States, small talk is quite common,” Molinsky says. “Schmoozing, building workplace relationships — those end up being critical for your network and to actually get your work done. When you come from a culture where small talk or speaking with strangers was not something that was typical in your culture and you’re not even sure how to approach someone or what to talk about, that can be a major roadblock, making it very difficult for some foreign nationals to succeed in the United States.”
Tip: If you notice that the person is expressing little interest in small talk, engage him or her in other ways by asking deeper, more reflective questions. Inquire about the status of a project they’re working on, or ask them about long-term goals for life in the United States.
“East Asians often are more reticent to engage in at-work conflict [and] to give direct negative feedback, because those cultures — certainly compared to the United States — are more collectivist and group-orientated,” Molinsky says.
Tip: Tell your managers not to interpret a worker’s silence during a meeting as an inability to offer practical solutions to problems or provide insight into a topic. It might be best for the manager to engage with the individual one-on-one after the meeting to follow up on his or her thoughts.
It’s important for people to feel like they have a sense of community and a trusted advisor. One way to provide guidance for the employee is through a formal mentorship arrangement.
“That mentor could be someone from the United States who has experience with that culture and is empathetic to the challenges that foreign nationals face,” Molinsky says. “Or it could be someone from that person’s culture who has gone through some of the challenges and has succeeded.”
“To succeed in a new culture is challenging,” he says. “This is what my book Global Dexterity is about. There is a way that you can step outside your cultural comfort zone, but at the same time not lose who you are in the process. I think that’s the ultimate challenge and opportunity for foreign nationals: Learning to adapt, but also learning to do it in a way that makes them still feel authentic.”