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Cultural awareness in the work place creates value

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A while back, I talked to a German lady whom was working in Norway. She told me about her first day of work in Norway, and how she had experienced something that caught her attention: she ran into the CEO in the office hallway…

This in itself might not have been out of the ordinary; however, he introduced himself by first name, was dressed in jeans and approached her in a very informal tone! She was surprised, and this was a big contrast to what she perceived as appropriate behavior for a leader. For a long time after this encounter, she did everything she could in order to avoid running into the CEO again…

Informal management, efficiency and team feeling

An informal leader whom does not necessary have all the answers, and has more of a coaching role is characteristic for Norwegian work culture. We typically also work in teams where it is expected as well as accepted that everyone speaks their opinion prior to any decisions being made. At the same time we are individualists and strive to work independently, without any involvement from a superior during the process of solving a given work task. The form of communication is generally viewed as very direct, and we generally do not show much emotion at the work place. Additionally we do not make our workday any longer than necessary with long lunches and many coffee breaks. More commonly Norwegians will strive to work efficient for 7,5 hours and leave work early in order to be able to pick up our children in kindergarten or after school care or exercise.

New in the Norwegian work culture

What is it like to be new to the Norwegian work culture when you are used to a work culture with a defined hierarchy where you do not leave the office before your manager, and you are not used to work completely independent nor speak your opinion? Some foreign workers joining Norwegian work forces might be used to share their great achievements in public, whereas in Norway we might consider that as bragging. Others might come from work cultures where meetings are unstructured and where meeting participants almost compete in interrupting each other, at the same time as there often is large emphasis on respect, trust and personal relations. As new in Norway you might experience that you all of a sudden are working shorter days, and have more spare time than you used to. For some new foreign workers in Norway it might be a challenge to fill this new found spare time.

From experience, I know that these are some of the challenges foreign workers meet when they are new in Norway.

Cultural differences

It is all about cultural differences. The word culture, can be compared to an iceberg where only the tip is visible to the eye. For instance what you eat, which holidays you celebrate, how you dress to work and how you spend your spare time. However, the larger part of the iceberg is hidden under water,and thus not visible to the eye. Culture, can be described the same way. How one views the world and what one think of as truth and not truth, beautiful and ugly, good or bad, or polite or rude is not always apparent to our eyes and ears. We have values and ways of thinking which we have gained through our upbringing and other influences we have from the society and culture we live in. Often these values are rooted in our personalities and hard to change, unless you are aware of what these values are. I believe the core of cultural awareness lies within our own conciseness of our own fundamental values; What you are aware of – you can change. What you are not aware of – can change you.

Minimizing the culture shock for foreign workers

When you move to a new country and a new culture, you can count on your own values, being challenged. It is common to go through a phase, which can be described as a ‘culture shock’. I therefore believe that it is crucial for foreign employees to receive assistance to make them aware of their own background and values, at the same time as informing and preparing them for their meeting with the Norwegian work culture. I would argue that this contributes to optimal work efficiency, and that the foreign worker will have better chances of thriving while living and working in Norway. It is of course of great importance that the investment made in hiring foreign employees is profitable, and the key to this is obviously that the employees will settle in well and thrive in their new work environment. Only then, they will truly focus on their work tasks and be valuable to the company.

Cultural awareness for all employees

Maybe it would be a good idea to put cultural awareness and consciousness on the agenda for all employees within a company, in order to also make the Norwegian employees aware of their own behavior, attitude and work ethics? In short - Make them aware of their own cultural heritage which we all carry so close to our heart. Maybe we need to work on putting our Norwegian naivety and tendency to view Norwegian work culture as superior to the side? Most likely there are more foreign workers who experience large cultural differences when they come to Norway, than the opposite.

5 key advice to companies with foreign employees:

  • Be aware that the Norwegian work culture differs from most other countries
  • Learn from the different cultures present and how they may add value to your company
  • Provide your foreign employees with information on Norwegian work culture when they join your company
  • Be aware that ‘learning by doing’ is not a time efficient method for a new foreign employee – it can become a very long process with many misunderstandings along the way.
  • Make cultural awareness and consciousness a part of your company policy for both Norwegian and foreign employees

This blog post is written by Rita Kjexrud. 

Ståle Wangen

Ståle Wangen

Jeg heter Ståle Wangen og jobber som advokat i Advokatfirmaet PwC. Jeg leder PwC Norges avdeling for internasjonal skatt og jobber til daglig med å bistå norske og utenlandske virksomheter med skatteplanlegging, strukturering av kjøp og salg av virksomheter, internprising og andre spørsmål knyttet til bedriftsbeskatning i Norge og utlandet. Jeg har mer enn 20 års erfaring med skatterådgivning.

Skatteverdenen blir stadig mer internasjonal og kompleks. Ved kjøp og salg av varer og tjenester utenfor Norges grenser må norske virksomheter håndtere skatteregler både i utlandet og i Norge. PwC har kontorer i de fleste land og vi har et unikt nettverk av skatterådgivere som kan bistå med spesialkompetanse på de fleste områder. Jeg håper mine innspill kan gi deg en alternativ innfallsvinkel til ulike temaer enn hva tradisjonelle nyhetsbrev gir.

Ta gjerne kontakt dersom du har spørsmål, kommentarer eller innspill.

My name is Ståle Wangen and I work as a partner and lawyer in PwC Tax and Legal Services in Oslo. I am head of PwC Norway’s international taxation services, and I have more than 20 years of experience assisting Norwegian and foreign businesses with tax planning, cross border restructuring, mergers and acquisitions (M&A), transfer pricing and other issues related to corporate taxation

Tax world is becoming more international and complex. Norwegian companies must increasingly handle tax rules abroad. PwC has offices almost all over the world and we have a unique network of tax advisors who can assist with expertise in most areas.

Please feel free to contact me if you have any questions, comments or input.

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