Perfect Strangers: Cultural and Linguistic Differences between U.S. and U.K. Workers Necessitate Training for Expatriates
Doke, DeeDee, HRMagazine
Not long before Christina Seckar, PHR, left her HR job in New Jersey for an HR manager's position in England, her British boss offered her a veiled warning: "Watch yourself. British people are different from Americans."
Seckar had also heard that the highest number of failed international assignments involve Americans in the United Kingdom and Britons in the United States. She says, "I thought, 'OK, if you ever thought it was going to be simple, keep that in mind.'"
A year since her move abroad, Seckar is still learning the ropes of British business culture at the oil field technology services company where she works, in Southampton, England. It hasn't been easy, she says. "I didn't realize in the beginning how much each and every thing you do is going to be a challenge."
Seckar's case is by no means unique. The United Kingdom might seem to require less adjustment for Americans than countries such as China, where English is not the official language and where cultural differences are obvious. But that assumption can set up Americans for difficulty, disappointment and underachievement in U.K. assignments, experts say.
The United Kingdom really is a foreign country--and HR departments ignore that fact at their peril, says Dean Foster, a New York-based consultant on intercultural business issues. "It's that expectation of similarity that throws everyone off."
Craig Storti agrees. "Because we speak the same language, Americans think they're not going to have any communication problems with the English," says the author of Old World, New World--Bridging Cultural Differences: Britain, France, Germany and the U.S. (Intercultural Press, 2001).
Dealing with a language that's like your own but full of different turns of phrase, unexpected meanings and unfamiliar nuances is not the only challenge that U.S. expatriates will face when on assignment in the United Kingdom. British attitudes about work, personal ambition, individualism, efficiency, business meetings and communications may run counter to your employees' experiences and expectations. The conflicts that arise can limit the success of their U.K. assignments--and your organization's effectiveness.
In a survey of emerging trends in global mobility conducted by the Cendant Mobility relocation firm of Danbury, Conn., 84 percent of companies that responded said they provide intercultural training "typically" or "sometimes" to staff being sent on international assignments. And 47 percent of respondents said less than 50 percent of those employees who are offered such training take it. Although the figures don't show the percentage of assignees to the United Kingdom who receive or are offered such training, HR professionals and intercultural consultants agree that companies that invest in training do so primarily for countries where English is not the official language. And they say it's a mistake not to offer such training to those assigned to the United Kingdom.
HR professionals need to be aware of the differences between the two countries that can affect the workplace, and they should take steps to help workers assigned to the …
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Publication information: Article title: Perfect Strangers: Cultural and Linguistic Differences between U.S. and U.K. Workers Necessitate Training for Expatriates. Contributors: Doke, DeeDee - Author. Magazine title: HRMagazine. Volume: 49. Issue: 12 Publication date: December 2004. Page number: 62+. © 1999 Society for Human Resource Management. COPYRIGHT 2004 Gale Group.