The Commisceo Global Blog - Perfect for Culture Vultures

Whether a press release, a case study of cultural difference, some tips on working abroad or some lessons in cross-communication, we try our best to satiate your inner culture vulture.

Welsh police call for more interpreting funds

A Welsh police authority yesterday called on the Home Office to provide extra funding to meet the spiralling cost of employing interpreters.

The demand came as it was revealed the amount being spent by some Welsh forces on providing translation services has risen by up to 200% in three years.

An influx of migrant workers from Eastern Europe and the Iberian peninsula has been blamed for the a sharp rise in costs for forces across the country.

Last week the Thames Valley Police Authority said the money it spent on interpreters had risen by more than £920,000 in a decade.

Read more: Wales 
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International assignments - six steps to success

In the book, “The World is Flat,” By Thomas L. Friedman, the author famously writes, “‘Honey,’ I confided, ‘I think the world is flat.’”

With the onslaught of rapid globalisation, high-quality executive mobility has become more critical than ever for the success of many US companies. Nevertheless, many companies continue to struggle to make their international assignments effective.

A well-developed global mobility program must cover a comprehensive range of complex issues, such as housing, children’s education, and income taxes. In addition, many companies now are investing in family counselling and in cultural and language training with good results. These issues offer many opportunities for continual improvement and, fortunately, experts and service providers now are available to help.

However, while these are important issues for success, in the end, these issues deal with administrative policy, process, and financial costs. They do not address the effectiveness of the assignment. Global mobility programs—and the managers responsible for them—must be aligned with the overall business goals.

Read more: Success Abroad 
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"Cultural pinpointing" and the multicultural consumer

The power of ethnic audiences is apparent in everyday life. But inherent risks exist when messaging previously meant for a minority group becomes part of the mainstream.

In its fourth year, the just-released Yankelovich Monitor Multicultural Marketing Study points to the impact of the "commercialization of culture," or repeated use of certain cultural elements to reach broader audiences. In 2004, 37 percent of non-Hispanic whites thought Hispanics were influencing everyone's lifestyle; today, it's 44 percent.

The result may mean less authentic messaging for Hispanics and African Americans, the study reports, if the same marketing strategies are used to reach ethnic consumers. "We're calling it cultural pinpointing. It's about understanding that today there's a lot of borrowing going on from the ethnic marketplace," said Sonya Suarez-Hammond, vice president of multicultural insights for Yankelovich in Chapel Hill, N.C.

Read more: Cultural pinpointing 
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An expat's view on intercultural communication

Portuguese expat Elizabet Fernandes enjoys the international atmosphere in her multilingual EU company, but finds that people get 'lost in translation’ and inherit one another's linguistic mistakes.

Lost in translation

English is the current working language but too often people ‘get lost in translation’ because the level and the knowledge of language amongst us varies from person to person. We also inherit each other’s linguistic mistakes and end up speaking a kind of ‘Euro-English’. I like to speak as many languages as possible so I prefer to speak Spanish, French or Italian depending on the nationality of my colleagues. Besides, with this job I can also use and develop my skills as a translator and that’s perfect.

Unfortunately it’s too hard to use Dutch on a daily basis as the Dutch immediately respond in English to foreigners even to Flemish people!

Culture games

Although Eurojust is a very multicultural environment it is still not very intercultural. My colleagues often don’t understand each other or tend to ‘over-react’. I have been fighting for intercultural training because it helps you to realise that different people (from different cultures) may react differently in similar situations and to respect that. I followed this training myself in Portugal so I know the impact and the benefits.

Read more: Holland 
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Ramadan begins...

Imagine going without food or water for the entire working day, and several hours more. With Ramadan about to start, that's the challenge facing Britain's 1.6 million Muslims. How do they cope?

"Burgers. I crave burgers. I don't even like burgers normally."

Thirty-one-year-old Sumaya Amra is just one of the billion or so Muslims who takes part in the holy month of Ramadan by fasting in daylight hours, each day for 30 days.

Like many young Muslims, London-based Sumaya works in an office and has to fit the demands of a working day around her fast and her food cravings.

Read more: The BBC 
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HR costs soaring in Dubai

Dubai has attracted many international companies and employees over recent years, as it bids to become a global economic superpower.

Managing the UAE's HR Environment, a report by Mercer HR Consulting, showed that average salaries for expatriate staff rose by 6% last year. Daily allowances rose by more than 20%, and multinationals now pay an average of about £240 a day for executive expats on short-term assignments in Dubai - one of the seven states that make up the United Arab Emirates (UAE).

These soaring costs are leading companies to be more creative with their HR practices, according to Markus Wiesner, head of Mercer's UAE operations.

Read more: Dubai 
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Learn the language before coming to the UK

Gordon Brown is ruling that medium-skilled migrants from outside the EU must speak and understand English. The “highly skilled” already have to; the unskilled, it seems, may remain uncomprehending. The Home Secretary adds enthusiastically that it will help integration if we “expect people coming through the skilled and slightly less-skilled route to actually be able to speak English”.

Well, duh! This is good news (though met with whingeing from employers who fear for their cheap labour, and from Tories who find it not fierce enough). It would be even better news if there were some mechanism to put the same onus on EU citizens who plan to stay, but since that is impossible we could at least refrain from gratuitously featherbedding them by putting up diversion signs in Polish to prevent lorry drivers “coming into conflict with road workers”.

Read more: Language 
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Muslims, Ramadan and the Workplace – a Guide for HR

The Muslim holy month of Ramadan begins next week. Millions of people from Morocco to Malaysia will fast everyday from sunrise to sunset for 30 days. Among these will be significant numbers of Muslims working in offices in Europe and North America where Ramadan slips past unnoticed. This lack of awareness can and does cause inconvenience, stress and unhappiness to practicing Muslims in the workplace. Commisceo Global, a leading cross cultural communication training provider, has released a free guide for employers with Muslim staff to help them better understand the month and what it means to Islam’s adherents.

Depending on the sighting of the moon, the Islamic world will once again begin their annual exercise in spiritual and physical cleansing through fasting and other religious exercises next week. In countries such as Saudi Arabia, Iran and Indonesia where the majority of the population will be fasting, the social cycle changes to accommodate people’s needs. Work may start later due to people praying late into the night, it will certainly finish earlier to allow people to prepare for iftar (breaking of the fast) and the general pace of life drops down a couple of gears, especially for the important last 10 nights.

However, in Europe and North America the pace of life continues as normal. Although many Muslims will be going through the same rigours as people in Syria or Singapore, Ramadan can be that little bit tougher. This is mainly down to the lack of cultural awareness within businesses nowadays. Although people may know who a Muslim is they may not appreciate what a Muslim does. Unawareness of aspects of the religion such as food & drink, interaction between genders, moral obligations, prayers and holidays is widespread.

As a result there are always stories of Muslims being invited to business lunches, not being provided with time or space to break their fasts at sunset or expected to work on the Eid holiday following Ramadan.

“We know of Muslims working in organisations that had no idea what Ramadan was and what it entails. Stories include buffets being set up next to someone’s desk at work who was fasting, a manager insisting on a Muslim colleague attending a working lunch and adequate time not being given at the time to break the fast to drink and eat properly,” explains Commisceo's Managing Director, Neil Payne.

Respecting cultural diversity in the workplace is simply best practice. If staff feel that they are being taken care of and understood on a personal level, a business will experience greater retention, morale and ultimately productivity.

In order to provide businesses with access to timely cultural knowledge on Muslims, Islam and the month of Ramadan, Coomisceo have released a free downloadable file that offers employers a summary of the main issues. These include looking at what Ramadan is, what it means to Muslims, the impact it has on their daily lives for a month and how in turn this impacts their working lives.


“The future is culturally diverse and if we are all to have a successful future, then cultural awareness is critical,” adds Payne.

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Australia puts migrants to culture test

Migrants hoping to become Australian citizens will soon have to take a test examining their knowledge of the country's history and institutions, and endorse national values including "mateship".

While Australia prides itself on its multicultural heritage, the government wants newcomers to "integrate" more fully. From later this year, prospective citizens will have to demonstrate an understanding of the English language. They will also be obliged to answer 20 questions, from a potential bank of 200. Anyone who gives fewer than 12 correct responses will not receive a passport.

Read more: Australia 
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The perfect expat?

Changes in the world economy have made many companies change their businesses in an international context. Expatriates are used to share the knowledge from their country and make these businesses a success. Expatriates cost a lot of money, and because of this it is necessary to know who is and who isn’t suited to work abroad. Research has been done to which personality characteristics are important for a good performance by an expatriate, but does this theoretical background suit the reality?

At first four variables used in this research are four of the ‘Big Five personality dimensions’ (Costa & McCrae, 1992): extraversion, emotional stability, agreeableness and conscientiousness. Extraversion can be seen in two different dimensions: ambition and social capability. There are different intra individual factors that can be indicative for the emotional stability of a worker. Examples of these are concern, being depressed, anger, embarrassment, emotionality, anxiety and insecurity. Examples of characteristics following agreeableness are courtesy, flexibility, reliability, helping others, soft-heartedness and tolerance. Conscientiousness can be described with thoroughness, responsibility, being organised and the quality of plans.

Read more: Expats 
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NHS HR staff accused of ignoring racism and bullying of Asian doctors

eading figures have told Personnel Today how HR teams are allowing a minority of racist line managers to make working life tough for migrant medics.

Their comments come after a General Medical Council (GMC) report showed that doctors trained overseas were twice as likely to face formal disciplinary hearings once a complaint had been made as those who graduated in the UK.

Ramesh Mehta, president of the British Association of Physicians of Indian Origin, told Personnel Today: "There is no doubt that bullying of Asian doctors goes on.

"The small minority of racists in the NHS take complaints [about foreign doctors] to HR. HR needs better training in handling these issues."

Read more: Doctors 
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Global Teams - A Guide For Multinationals

For global corporations, the borderless world offers a glimpse of what's to come. International success once meant having bodies and factories on the ground from São Paulo to Silicon Valley to Shanghai. Coordinating their activities was a deliberately planned effort handled by headquarters.

The challenge now is to weld these vast, globally dispersed workforces into superfast, efficient organizations. Given the conflicting needs of multinational staff and the swiftly shifting nature of competition brought about by the Internet, that's an almost impossible task. And getting workers to collaborate instantly—not tomorrow or next week, but now—requires nothing less than a management revolution.

Complicating matters is the fact that the very idea of a company is shifting away from a single outfit with full-time employees and a recognizable hierarchy. It is something much more fluid, with a classic corporation at the center of an ever-shifting network of suppliers and outsourcers, some of whom only join the team for the duration of a single project.

To adapt, multinationals are hiring sociologists to unlock the secrets of teamwork among colleagues who have never met. They're arming staff with an arsenal of new tech tools to keep them perpetually connected. They include software that helps engineers co-develop 3D prototypes in virtual worlds and services that promote social networking and that track employees and outsiders who have the skills needed to nail a job. Corporations are investing lavishly in posh campuses, crafting leadership training centers, and offering thousands of online courses to develop pipelines of talent.

Read more: Global Teams 
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Family matters on expat assignment

In today’s digitalised, globalised world, where the words:  ‘cost-effective solutions’ and ‘bottom-line’ are a common language shared across the corporate spectrum.  Finally, issues of families and family support, so long concealed and little discussed within the corporate arena are now enjoying a renaissance.

The focus on maintaining a healthy ‘work/life balance’ is fuelling recognition amongst corporations that revenue is not the dominant factor in achieving the long-term goals of increased productivity and profitability.

Read more: Expats 
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Diversity and equality workers want a professional association

Diversity practitioners are calling for a new professional association to help them to establish industry standards and define proper career paths, according to the Learning and Skills Council (LSC).

A report commissioned by the LSC, due to be published next week, has revealed that despite educational and vocational training, diversity experts feel they cannot carry out their jobs effectively as there is an "unstructured" mix of standards and guidance available to them, through 'on the job', formal and informal training.

Read more: Diversity 
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Culture still a major factor in expat failure

The Cartus Emerging Trends in Global Mobility: Policies & Practices Survey shows that an accelerated shift from long-term to short-term international relocation assignments is expected by the end of 2009. China's popularity as a destination is growing the fastest when compared with the U.S., Great Britain and India.

Cartus, a global mobility management and workforce development consultant, conducted the survey with 184 respondents from companies in 25 major industry segments. The organizations surveyed represent more than 83,000 assignees and have headquarters in 19 different nations.

Cartus also identified why these international assignments fail, regardless of being on a short-term basis. The top three reasons were family adjustment, at 71%; assignee personal style, at 48%; and cultural differences, at 40%.

This is easily remedied with intercultural and language training, which more companies are offering. The survey shows that intercultural training was offered by 55% of companies in 2007, versus the 28% offered in 2004. Meanwhile, 58% of companies offered language services for families, an increase from 30% in 2004.

Read more: Cartus 
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Localisation of expats problematic

Localisation of expatriates is problematic for employers, says ORC Worldwide's 2007 Survey on International Localisation Policies & Practices for Expatriates.

According to the report, 48 percent of the participants have seen an increase in the use of localisation over the past two years, yet the practice remains tricky.

Obstacles faced by employers when localising – that is, phasing out or removing expatriate assignment terms and conditions – include retirement plans, consistency in developing local pay packages, management preference for individual negotiations, establishing an acceptable local salary in low-salary countries, and employee requests for continuance of coverage for international schools and health care.

Read more: Expatriates 
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Recruiting, Retaining and Promoting Culturally Different Employees

Picture it: the CEO of a pharmaceutical company is brainstorming with his staff, and the idea of gift certificates is tossed around. One employee, an accountant and a recent immigrant from Romania, has never heard of a gift certificate, because although she’s fluent in English, gift certificates don’t exist in Romania. She asks, “What’s a gift certificate?” and everyone looks at her like it’s the stupidest question they’ve ever heard.

Unfortunately, this is a true story. It’s just one example cited in Recruiting, Retaining and Promoting Culturally Different Employees by Canadian cross-cultural specialists Don Rutherford and Lionel Laroche.

Although cross-cultural challenges exist in Canadian workplaces, entrepreneurs can employ tactics that help minimize the difficulties to ensure they retain and capitalize on the ideas and skills that culturally diverse employees bring.

Read more: Recruiting, Retaining and Promoting Culturally Different Employees
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Are Americans prejudiced?

Most Americans believe their fellow citizens hold strong biases against minorities, according to a landmark poll by Zogby International commissioned by GSN. The survey of 10,387 American adults, one of the most comprehensive ever conducted on prejudice, according to Zogby, explores attitudes about race, religion, age, sexual orientation, gender, physical appearance, and politics. The poll's margin of error is +/- 1 percentage point.

The "Report Card on American Prejudice" is part of a wide-ranging effort by GSN to spur a national dialogue on intolerance and bigotry. The survey's release provides a powerful follow-up to the July 17th premiere of the groundbreaking new television series, "Without Prejudice?" which airs Tuesdays at 9 pm (EST) on GSN -- the network for games.

Read more: Zogby 
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Trend to shorter-term international relocation assignments

According to a new survey from Cartus, the premier provider of global mobility management and workforce development solutions, an accelerated shift from long-term to short-term international relocation assignments is expected during the next two years.

The Cartus Emerging Trends in Global Mobility: Policies & Practices Survey also revealed that international assignment volume has grown and is expected to increase in the future. The study also found that the number of assignment destinations is surging. Respondents named 51 different countries in their list of top three destination locations, a 76 percent increase over 2004. The United States continued as the most common destination for relocation assignments, but China overtook the UK for second place while Germany replaced Singapore for fourth place. China is expected to take over the top spot within the next two years, according to the survey.

Read more: Cartus 
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Diversity given low priority despite legislation

UK employers are failing to address workplace diversity, despite the country's long standing equality legislation.

A survey conducted by online recruitment firm Monster, questioning 660 employers, found that six in 10 respondents did not have a diverse workforce or were unaware whether they did.

Four in 10 said diversity is a "big priority", while 36% said it was not at all, with 15% unsure.

One employer in 10 said was starting to think about it, but was not yet a reality.

Read more: Survey 
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