Thinking of working abroad? Whether you simply want to add some overseas experience to your CV to spice it up, or you’re planning to relocate permanently, foreign offices can sometimes take a little getting used to.
People around the world do things differently, and this could be daunting at first. However, like many expats you’ll soon find yourself not only getting used to the culture and expectations of your new workplace, but actively embracing and enjoying them.
To give you an idea of just how different some things can be in an office overseas, we take a look at four overseas working practices that might leave you confused when you first start working abroad.
The sauna is a tradition held in high-regard in Finland – there are more than three million saunas serving a population of 5.5 million.
Colleagues may sauna together to relax or hold a team meeting, and even business meetings are sometimes proceeded or followed by a trip to the sauna. If you’re a visiting business person, being invited into the sauna is a sign that the meeting is going well. According to Visit Finland, ‘it is said that in Finland, more important decisions get made in saunas than in meetings’.
Just a warning; Finns traditionally sauna naked and think nothing of it; even business people or politicians discussing important meetings.
Finns will understand if you want to wear a towel or a swimsuit, although it’s worth remembering that a visit to a sauna is considered a bonding process, so doing so could make you seem reluctant to get to know your colleagues or business partners/clients.
The Japanese practice of Inemuri – which means ‘being present while sleeping’ – is actively encouraged in many companies. While some offices have special sofas or cots for their employees to take a power nap, falling asleep in meetings or at your desk can also be acceptable.
This doesn’t mean that you can just nod off whenever you feel like it though; the idea is that Japanese workers often put in long hours and lots of hard graft. Falling asleep in the office is therefore taken as a sign of dedication, as it shows you have literally worked yourself to exhaustion.
There’s a big difference between being so tired that you can’t help but drift off in the office and actively trying to sleep; your boss and colleagues won’t be happy if you turn up to a meeting in your pyjamas and a sleeping bag.
Writing for the BBC in 2016, Dr Briggitte Steger of Cambridge University explains;
‘Diligence, which is expressed by working long hours and giving one’s all, is highly valued as a positive moral trait in Japan. Someone who makes the effort to participate in a meeting despite being exhausted or ill demonstrates diligence, a sense of responsibility and their willingness to make a sacrifice.’
‘By overcoming physical weaknesses and needs, a person becomes morally and mentally fortified and is filled with positive energy. Such a person is considered reliable and will be promoted. If, in the end, they succumb to sleep due to exhaustion or a cold or another health problem, they can be excused and an “attack of the sleep demon” can be held responsible.’
Don’t be surprised, therefore, if you find your colleagues, or even your superiors, nodding off during meetings, or hunched over their desks. Just maybe don’t try and grab 40 winks on your first day at work.
The Germans are stereotyped as being organised and efficient, but it’s a well-deserved generalisation; it has been estimated that UK workers are -27% less productive than those in Germany. In other words, German workers could leave the office on Thursday afternoon and not come in again until Monday and still generate as much value as UK employees working a five-day week.
German work ethic likely plays a part in this; in Germany there is a clear distinction between time for work and time for pleasure. The two rarely intersect. This means offices are usually quiet, with everyone getting on with their task-list.
As expat blogger Maria explains;
‘When you look at the output of a German employee, you can see that they are very productive. They tend to be highly focused on their work and chitchatting and dilly dallying is kept to a minimum. Meetings have an agenda and are to the point.’
‘There is a different mindset as well. If you work overtime every day in Germany, you’ll leave a negative impression with your boss, because he/she will think that you don’t get your stuff done in 8 hours and are not efficient and productive enough.’
You might find this a bit different to the average British office, where small talk occasionally breaks out and people have a laugh by the watercooler or in the kitchen.
The Muslim holy day is Friday, not Sunday. This means that Saudi Arabia, along with several other countries in the Middle East, has a Friday-Saturday weekend.
In fact, many Middle-Eastern countries used to have Thursday and Friday as the weekend and work Saturday to Wednesday, but the complications this caused doing business on an international scale has seen many change these parameters.
Some have adopted the standard ‘Western’ schedule, while others have shifted the weekend back a day, like Saudi Arabia.
It could be bit of a shock to you trying to get used to the idea that Saturday is the end of the weekend. Not that it really puts a spanner in the works – Saudi Arabia is a dry country, after all, so you wouldn’t be able to accidentally turn up to work hungover on Sunday after forgetting about the difference in weekends.
On the plus side, it means Mondays won’t seem as bad as they used to be.
Of course, this isn’t the only way that Muslim culture will affect your work day. You may find that tasks or meetings get interrupted by some of the five daily prayers observed by followers of Islam.
You’ll soon get used to this and there is no expectation for those who don’t follow the faith to pray as well.
Getting used to different office cultures is just another part of expat life. These working practices might seem odd at first, but you’ll soon learn to adapt and thrive in this new environment.
In fact, adjusting to different office cultures when working abroad acts as a great bellwether for how well you’ve been able to assimilate into your new homeland. When you no longer hesitate to nap at your desk, or take your clothes off in front of your colleagues (only in Finland, we hasten to add) you know you’ve truly conquered working abroad!
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