International HR and Cross Cultural Awareness

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As global workforces become the norm, HR must manage an increasingly diverse range of cultures. What difficulties do they face and how can they overcome them?


The advent of satellite TV and the internet has whittled away at national cultures to the extent that we may have begun to assume that everyone lives, acts and even works in a similar way. But that’s not always the case. Global workplace furniture manufacturer Steelcase recently surveyed its European clients’ ways of working, and the results, if not entirely unexpected, certainly provide food for thought.


The British are individualistic, self-controlled, class-conscious and natural team workers, according to Steelcase. The Germans, however, are more conservative, place a greater emphasis on privacy and prefer a formal, hierarchical workplace. The Italians are hierarchical and bureaucratic, insisting on face-to-face meetings and preferring manager-led processes, whereas the French are more egalitarian and participative. At French meetings, it isn’t uncommon for everyone to talk at the same time – yet decisions are still generally made by senior people. Italian meetings, which rarely start or end on time, involve lots of emotion and noise, but no-one expects decisions to be reached until much later.


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