Language and cultural competencies are crucial in the global marketplace because cultural differences can significantly affect organizational performance. The proliferation of information communication technologies has increased global interconnectivity, which means that organizations have to deal with an increasingly diverse workplace. Some countries have instituted language and cultural learning initiatives into their education systems while others with an outward orientation have actively sought to influence other people’s cultural and linguistic orientations. The analysis considers the case studies of five countries, how they deal with the increasing cultural diversity in most organizational contexts, and the different policy and regulatory environments that influence their respective operating environments.
The United Arab Emirates (UAE)
The UAE’s business environment is culturally diverse especially because of reliance on immigrant workforce from around the world to fill the expertise gap in local industries, such as oil and construction. For the last two decades, the UAE has experienced a large influx of expatriate employees (Yaghi & Yaghi, 2013). The resultant increase in organizational diversity within the UAE context has necessitated organizational leaders to seek ways to manage the linguistic and cultural diversity in the country. As of 2012, 90 percent of employees in various UAE economic sectors comprised of expatriate (Yaghi & Yaghi, 2013). To ensure sustained productivity, the UAE has had to institute organizational practices that ensure cultural diversity in UAE’s human resources as an asset rather than a hindrance to organizational performance. According to Yaghi and Yaghi (2013), managing human resource diversity can help deal with human-related differences. Such differences can create significant hindrances to organizational performance because of an increase in conflicts, cross-cultural misunderstanding, and miscommunication. The UAE is a highly conservative country, which suggests expatriates would have significant sociocultural problems integrating into the country’s workforce, particularly emigrants from liberal western countries.
Despite the high cultural diversity in the UAE, evidence from research shows that when particular human resources conditions are favorable, cultural diversity does not negatively influence organizational productivity. Ailabouni, Gidado and Painting (2007) conducted research on the UAE’s construction industry, which is a trade that attracts the most expatriate workers in the UAE because of the massive development projects aimed at developing the region’s tourist attractions. The researchers found that as long as the management was accountable and transparent, the employees were paid on time and the workers at all levels had a good attitude and were competent while cultural issues did not reduce their productivity. Also, financial and non-financial incentives were secondary to the systematic task delegation by the management (Ailabouni, Gidado & Painting, 2007). Figure 1 is a summary of Ailabouni, Gidado and Painting’s (2007) research, which does not include cultural factors as significant influencers of the UAE’s organizational productivity. The lack of emphasis on cultural competencies in the construction industry case study could be representative of the UAE work environment. The UAE does not allow free labor movement because of sponsorship laws, which restrict the movement of human resources except accountants, doctors, and engineers (Ailabouni, Gidado & Painting, 2007). Therefore, most employees who come to work in the region do not interact extensively with the local culture.
Cameroon is a developing country in Africa that is struggling to become a developed economy in the highly competitive global marketplace. The country speaks French and English as the national languages. While these languages open up the country to the western world, Africa’s orientation has shifted from the West to the East as China has risen to become a global superpower and largest investor in Africa. Consequently, the Cameroonian training and development in languages and culture have shifted towards an Eastern cultural orientation. China is a global economic superpower whose economic might has significantly improved over the last three decades to become the second largest economy in the world. Increased economic prominence has led to an integration of China into the global marketplace, which means repeated contact with foreign languages and cultures. Therefore, China has had to institute measures to ensure that factors such as language barriers and intercultural miscommunication do not impede its various global business operations (Kong & Cheung, 2009). In Cameroon, there is an increased proliferation of Chinese education institutions to help advance Chinese culture and language in Cameroon as part of the two countries’ economic cooperation. Some of the Chinese institutions include Confucius Institutes, school construction projects and scholarships to China (Nordtveit, 2011). The intercultural cooperation helps Cameroon expand its economic opportunities to include China and other Asia Pacific countries. Cameroon’s cultural diversity can help the country reach its development goals in the future. However, the cultural and economic cooperation between the country and China includes legal provisions that give China access to local resources, which could have a negative economic impact on Cameroon in the future.
China’s response to the need for versatility in its human resources is most apparent in the hospitality industry in which employees have to deal with clientele from different linguistic and cultural backgrounds. According to Kong and Cheung (2009), China’s hotel industry had been facing issues because of poor communication skills when employees were dealing with clientele from a different language and cultural background, which led to poor service delivery. In addition to soft skills such as willingness to offer quality service and friendliness, Chinese firms sought to ensure that employees had the skills to deliver the quality tourists expected. The major contributing factor in the hotel industry’s response to the language and culture issue was the high prominence of western-based hotels and increased inflow of western tourists in China. The aforementioned customer segments expected service quality levels similar to the western world. Therefore, Kong and Cheung (2009) report that China’s hotels and other firms aimed at integrating Chinese firm corporate management into international firms, thereby reducing the cultural distance and intercultural communication barriers.
China and the western world have particularly distinct and different cultures, particularly regarding their tendency towards communitarianism and individualism. The western world has an individualistic sociocultural orientation while China and Asian societies have a communitarian sociocultural orientation. The extreme sociocultural and linguistic differences created significant difficulties in China, particularly because an improvement in economic performance meant an increased need for qualified and competent employees. Therefore, China has a problem acquiring and retaining qualified human resources for its various industries with a highly prominent presence in the global marketplace. China’s hotel industry continues to face high employee turnover rates, which was about 21.18 percent in 2004 (Kong & Cheung, 2009). The country has improved its intercultural competencies progressively since information communication technologies have allowed for increased cross-cultural communication between the East and the West, notwithstanding the whole of the world. Legal issues pertaining to the language in the Chinese human resources environment include the requirement to write contracts in Chinese to make them legally valid. Although an individual can write the contract in a dual-language format, only the Chinese language is legally valid. Therefore, employees who do not speak Chinese need to ensure they understand the terms and conditions inherent in the contract or risk losses in the future in case of employment disputes.
The United States (U.S)
The U.S. and Europe have experienced economic slowdowns in the recent past, prompting their companies to seek economic opportunities in foreign markets such as China. The U.S. has been a dominant economic superpower in the world, and has had little necessity to engage in cross-cultural awareness or to place significant emphasis on multilingual competencies in its human resources. As opportunities shift to the global marketplace, the U.S. has engaged in various measures to tap into global economic opportunities. The country has had to engage in employee training and development to provide the needed expertise in foreign markets such as China. Furthermore, China and the U.S. have increasingly engaged in trade as companies, particularly manufacturing plants, have sought the cheaper Chinese labor force. Therefore, U.S. employees have had to learn intercultural competencies to interact effectively with the Chinese operating environment. For example, Alon and Ferreira (2008) report an increased proliferation of expatriate managers in Chinese hotels, which attests to the increased need for intercultural interaction between the two countries. The U.S. does not have significant language barriers in most of the other countries in the global marketplace since the longstanding economic dominance of the western world has led to increased awareness of western culture and linguistic heritage. Alon and Ferreira (2008) provide insights into the general orientation of human resource training by U.S. firms operating in the Asian and Chinese marketplace. The U.S. firms focus on people management skills, aptitude, risk-taking, and creativity. Risk-taking is an example of the individualistic orientation of western firms and culture as opposed to Eastern cultural emphasis on thinking when making decisions. The West’s decision-making is based on internal direction while the East is based on outer direction because of their individualist and collectivist cultural orientations respectively.
The United Kingdom
Most of the training in the U.K. higher education system occurs with the assistance of sessional staff, which helps the country deal with the increasing numbers of students since the 1980s. The sessional staff includes language tutors, who help the country’s human resources develop language competencies that help with cross-cultural understanding. The U.K.’s liberal policies have led to an increase in cultural diversity in the country. For example, the FAVOR project’s language tutors have supported an Open University format in learning, which ensures that most people can learn about different languages, whether they are students or in professional roles in their respective organizations (Bryson, 2013). Therefore, the U.K. local environment supports cross-cultural interaction, which means the availability of a human resources base with the requisite inter-cultural skills and knowledge to interact with the global workplace environment. The U.K. does not have significant issues in developing its local language competencies because of its open policies in higher education and a liberal orientation in the local legal environment, particularly regarding immigration. Its open policies allow for a human resource base with the cultural competencies to work in multiple workplace environments. The impending Brexit could close off the country from immigrant workers, which could compromise its cultural diversity and close it off from immigrant workers.
The case study analysis has shown increasing cultural interaction in the sampled Eastern and Western countries. In comparison to other countries included in the analysis, U.A.E has not actively sought to influence other countries or immigrant employees to its cultural and linguistic orientation. The reluctance to influence other linguistic and cultural orientations could be because of the relatively higher percentage of immigrant workers in the U.A.E. and the restrictive sponsorship laws that limit free labor movement for most formal and informal professions. The U.A.E. should consider increased integration into the global marketplace by reducing the restrictions on sponsorship laws to make it competitive. Increased inflow of skilled immigrant workers and the resultant intercultural exchange could improve the region’s economic outlook in the future.
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References Ailabouni, N., Gidado, K., & Painting, N. (2007). Factors affecting employee productivity in the UAE construction industry. In Proceeding Conference for Postgraduate Researchers of the Built and Natural Environment (PRoBE) (pp. 33-46). http://www.academia.edu/download/3458569/CIB10773.pdf Alon, I., & Ferreira, T. (2008). Human resources challenges and opportunities in China: a case from the hospitality industry. Retrieved from http://scholarship.rollins.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1184&context=as_facpub Bryson, C. (2013). Supporting Sessional Teaching Staff in the UK--to What Extent is There Real Progress?. Journal of University Teaching and Learning Practice, 10(3), 2. https://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/EJ1017116.pdf Chao, T. H. (1997). Chinese Heritage Community Language Schools in the United States. Retrieved from https://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/ED409744.pdf Kong, H., & Cheung, C. (2009). Hotel development in China: a review of the English language literature. International Journal of Contemporary Hospitality Management, 21(3), 341-355. http://citeseerx.ist.psu.edu/viewdoc/download?doi=10.1.1.468.7572&rep=rep1&type=pdf Nordtveit, B. H. (2011). An emerging donor in education and development: A case study of China in Cameroon. International Journal of Educational Development, 31(2), 99-108. https://www.researchgate.net/file.PostFileLoader.html?id=56d52baecbd5c23431043582&assetKey=AS%3A334703438647296%401456810926387 Yaghi, A., & Yaghi, I. (2013). Human resource diversity in the United Arab Emirates: empirical study. Education, Business and Society: Contemporary Middle Eastern Issues, 6(1), 15-30. https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Abdulfattah_Yaghi/publication/259675622_Human_Resource_Diversity_in_the_United_Arab_Emirates_Empirical_Study_Education_Business_and_Society_Contemporary_Middle_Eastern_Issues_by_Emerald_2013_Volume_6_Issue_1_p15-30_Second_co-author_is_Ihsan/links/0046352d4cd7b06eda000000/Human-Resource-Diversity-in-the-United-Arab-Emirates-Empirical-Study-Education-Business-and-Society-Contemporary-Middle-Eastern-Issues-by-Emerald-2013-Volume-6-Issue-1-p15-30-Second-co-author-is.pdf