Lowering the voltage on culture shock

Foreign workers might withdraw or even become aggressive in unfamiliar cultural setting
By Zelda Fedder
|Canadian HR Reporter|Last Updated: 09/21/2006

All across Canada, and especially in Alberta’s booming oil sands, companies are looking far and wide to fill labour shortages. One solution is to bring in skilled temporary foreign workers. But starting a new job in a new country with different cultural norms can be unnerving. This can affect their productivity and desire to stay in the job. Not only is the company’s culture new and different, but so is the surrounding social structure.

All of these differences can lead to culture shock, a pronounced reaction to the psychological disorientation most people experience when they move into a new cultural environment. Culture shock is not an illness. It’s a natural occurrence in the process of adjusting to a different culture.

On one level, culture shock can look like frustration, something everyone has experienced at one time or another. However, frustration is usually traceable to a specific action and, although it may be uncomfortable, it is generally short lived. Culture shock is different. It has two quite distinctive features.