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A Helping Hand for International Employees
The Australian Department of Immigration expect 133,500 workers to migrate from overseas to Australia due to their work or business skills in a 12 month period from 2008-2009. Here we consider some of the challenges faced by overseas professionals.
By: Elia Tours
Employed for their professional ability and English skills, these employees are an important asset to many Australian businesses.
But the first weeks, and even months, in a new environment can be distressing to workers not used to the Australian business culture.
Simple, everyday work situations like taking a coffee break can highlight cultural differences. Eddie Ng, a successful IT consultant, originally from Malaysia, recalls going for a coffee with workmates on his first day. “I was bewildered by the variety of coffees available,” he says. “I ordered something called a ‘Short Black’. It turned out to be short and black and really didn’t taste so good!”
Another Malaysian business professional, who requested not to be named, recalls his confusion at why everyone seemed to think his name was ‘Mike’. “Everyone, including my boss, called me ‘Mike’, he recalls. “I thought it was some sort of nickname.” It was only a few weeks later that he realised that lots of Australians address each other as ‘mate’.
Whilst anecdotes such as these may raise a smile, it’s important to realise just how distressing these situations can be to an employee trying to fit into a new workplace.
Furthermore, they can result in lost productivity for Australian businesses. In countries such as Japan a strict hierarchical business culture is followed and only the most senior employees contribute in meetings. It would be considered rude to disagree with somebody openly and publicly, even by email. Australian companies may not be realising the full potential of these international employees as other more aggressive (and often less experienced)
The difficulties in communication also extend to written communications. In Australia it is common for the main content of an email to be written formally, but for the start and end to be informal. Chien-Yuan Chiu, originally from Taiwan, explained that in the Taiwanese business culture there is a clear difference between formal and informal communication. “Also in Australia, some words are spelt in American English, some in British English. Business terms are also different.” He concluded that “sometimes it’s just too difficult to write an email.”
Danielle Cullen, Managing Director of Elia Tours, believes that it is important for Australian companies to invest a little more time into their international employees. Having worked in management consultancy for 10 years before starting her own business she says that she has seen many companies repeat the same mistakes.
“There is a desperate shortage of good skilled resources out there,” she explains, “and companies are spending an awful lot of money attracting and recruiting people from overseas. The problem is that these employees just need a little extra help when they get here to help them settle in and understand the new business culture. I’ve seen a lot of really great people return to their home countries after a few months because they just don’t feel like they are part of the team.”
Earlier this year, Elia Tours launched 2 short business courses (5 days or 10 days), designed for companies who are active in recruiting people from overseas. The courses were designed by talking to a number of professional people from overseas about the challenges they faced when they first arrived in Australia.
“Of course we cover all of the usual Business English skills such as written communications and delivering presentations,”
The courses also incorporate a speed networking event, designed to help boost confidence and introduce international employees to other local professional people. “The course has serious content but we try to keep it fun too,” Cullen explains. “Our goal is to help new employees feel confident and relaxed about entering a new workplace.”
“As Australian businesses increasingly look overseas to find human resources, they really need to think about how they are going to help them fit into the workplace once they arrive.”
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