Helping foreign workers integrate into Canadian culture (Web sight)

But don’t forget about the Canadian who returns from a job abroad

In the quest for skilled workers, more Canadian businesses have been hiring workers from other countries. What they may not take into account is the culture shock these employees and their families go through upon arrival. Often not speaking the language well, they need to find accommodation and schools for their children, fill out huge amounts of paperwork and even buy their first pair of winter boots. A simple task like grocery shopping can be an overwhelming experience.

Coping with culture shock

This article, “Coping with culture shock,” in the Boston Business Journal, describes how businesses can reap the benefits of helping workers from other countries acclimatize. The article describes how Pfizer Inc. in Cambridge, Mass., simplified the process by working with a third-party corporate relocation assistance program. The relocation vendor helps workers with such things as getting a social security number and setting up a bank account, tasks that would normally take the worker hours, which could be spent learning the new job. Pfizer’s associate director of human resources is quoted as saying: “By offering relocation services, you’re opening up the market place … increasing your recruitment pool.” The article goes on to say that some companies “offer such amenities as employment counselling for uprooted spouses and domestic partners or, for interested employees from faraway places, English language lessons and cultural-awareness classes.”

Showing workers how things are done

The Alberta Pork producers’ site provides basic, hands-on ideas in this article, which lists simple yet effective ways employers can help foreign workers who are coming to Canada. In addition to helping them buy groceries and winter clothing, ideas include taking newcomers on a tour of the area and giving them a map, showing them how to make overseas phone calls and introducing them to the health, mail and transit systems. Even before he leaves his country, ensure the new worker has a valid passport for at least the period of their work visa and that he obtains an international driver’s license, which has to be obtained in his home country. If the worker plans to stay in Canada permanently, have him bring the documentation required to apply for residency, such as birth and marriage certificates, education and trade qualification certificates, work references and the work permit needed for temporary residence. The article also advises businesses to have someone introduce foreign workers to people from their country of origin who live locally.

Different codes of conduct can generate conflict

The article “Culture clash,” from CIO magazine, delves into the differences between various cultures and how cultural integration can have an impact on an organization. “In my experience, multicultural projects almost always generate conflicts. And that’s because people from different cultural backgrounds have different notions of leadership,” writes the author. “In sum, global workers have varying attitudes about the importance of deadlines, the flexibility of rules and even the need to write things down.” The article looks at traditional American values and compares them to many of the IT workers who have emigrated to the United States in the past decade. They “do not share those values, and they follow radically different codes of conduct. For some, a caste system or other rigid hierarchy establishes the ground rules of social relations. For others, education means rote learning and strict obedience to authority. In many cultures, open disagreement and direct criticism entail a painful loss of face and thereby close off the possibility of ever resolving anything.” More organizations now provide multicultural management training, which “makes good business sense,” according to the article.

Ann Macaulay is a freelance editor and regular contributor to Canadian HR Reporter. Her Web Sight column appears regularly in the CloseUp section.

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