Consider Cultural Differences for Employee Engagement and Recognition in Other Countries
Employee engagement is growing across the globe as more companies look to implement and grow recognition programs internationally.
According to Aon Hewitt’s 2016 Trends in Global Employee Engagement, the Asia Pacific region has shown the largest rate of improvement in employee engagement, with engagement rates in Europe, North America and Latin America growing modestly.
Companies are increasingly looking at ways to engage employees in international offices. At its core, recognition is the same everywhere in the world. All employees want and need to be appreciated and recognized. However, a recognition program that works in North America may not work perfectly in Europe or Asia without making some tweaks or changes based on cultural differences.
Roy Saunderson, Chief Learning Officer at Rideau Recognition Solutions, is an expert at helping companies establish or assimilate their programs in other parts of the world. He has worked in eight European countries as well as in Asia.
Saunderson says too often we go in with a cookie cutter approach and say ‘this is the program we use here, so this is what we’re going to use’, instead of saying ‘this is the system we use, how can we tailor the programs to fit our division here in whatever country?’
“We need to learn to accept these differences and do a little cultural assimilation,” he said. “If people realize a program is a tool then they’ll design a program that is an effective tool for each country. But you have to be much more aware of the unique differences.”
For instance, he said, many Asian cultures have more of a collective, communal mindset. So for them, team recognition is more important than individual recognition. In fact, being set apart and publicly acknowledged individually can almost be seen as a negative.
Rewards vs. Recognition – Key Drivers Around the World
In some countries, employees are much more money-focused. Other cultures often view rewards as recognition – seeing the words as synonymous. By defining terms and differentiating between recognition and rewards, the concepts begin to resonate more.
“Often, they do not understand, appreciate or comprehend how Americans can get a trinket and be happy,” Saunderson said. “They absolutely can degrade that kind of recognition.”
“So when you start to share with them that money doesn’t have the same impact in all situations, they can start to understand. But it’s going against the cultural grain. When I tell people that positive feedback will outweigh any negative feedback, they start to get it. When you educate them on how to give feedback, they start to realize ‘that would be kind of nice to have.’”
In some countries, there is initially an aversion to recognition, Saunderson said, but using employee surveys he is able to point out that their employees want recognition and should be giving it to them.
“In some countries, the intangible doesn’t mean anything to them – money is the only thing that talks,” Saunderson said. “You have to be very mindful of cultural practices and norms, and be aware of monetary economic comparisons from one country to another. Then you have to start to look at the education required for how you appreciate people, how you give recognition the right way.”
Respecting Cultures – Finding Out the ‘Why’
Educating people in other countries about recognition is important, but at the same time it is crucial to respect cultural differences.
“You have to start off with the strategy as to the ‘why’ of recognition,” Saunderson said. “Education, listening and respect are so critical. You’ve got to talk to them one on one, do the focus groups. Once you understand their why, now you might be able to create a program or practices that address those concerns.”
There will still be some aspects of the culture you have to acknowledge and you have to be careful not to superimpose programs and say this is the ‘North American way’, he added.
Break it down to universal needs.
“It’s universal – everyone wants to be recognized. But respect is at the core of recognition and we need to respect the cultural differences. Knowing that our programs are a tool, not the end all be all – there will be times when we need to customize our programs to other cultures.
“We want people to feel valued. We want results to improve, and we want to improve engagement so that will address how productive people are and how engaged they are as far as giving discretionary effort,” Saunderson said. “But that’s only an outcome. We have to be careful how we are getting there. Don’t pretend our programs are going to be a universal approach.”