Caribbean Business Magazine | March 2006
A MAJOR PROBLEM FOR COMPANIES
By Pedro Vaje Javier
When relocating personnel to Puerto Rico, companies need to know that cross-cultural training for the whole family is a necessity, not a luxury.
According to Lynn Stravecky, President of Relocation Counseling & Consulting and the only Certified Cross-Cultural Trainer in the Caribbean, spending a relatively small amount providing cultural training programs for employees arriving on the Island, compared to other relocation benefits such as moving expenses, offers great benefits and helps the company’s bottom line. “Helping employees to “hit the ground running. when arriving to Puerto Rico ensures employee retention, maximizes cost effectiveness by managing employee expectations and enhances employee confidence.” Stravecky said, adding, “This is not something human resources department can effectively do.”
“You don’t have to like the way things work, but you do have to accept and respect them.”
Stravecky said failing to provide employees and their families with the needed cultural training can contribute to assignment failure. “Many employees fail in their assignments because of their inability to cope successfully with the new culture. It is important to realize that this failure is totally avoidable.”
According to the relocation expert, 60% of assignments fail due to insufficient preparation of the employee and the family. More than half of all expatriate employees suffer serious marital difficulties. Stravecky explained that lack of adequate cultural preparation for the employee and the family can lead to an unhappy employee who underperforms at work. “If an individual is having problems adapting, the spouse is unhappy and depressed and the family is having problems, it will reflect on the job performance.”
The counselor mentioned the case of a company executive who was about to be fired for underperformance until he received the proper cultural training. “After receiving the training, he shined!” she said. Employees might also give up and quit in order to go back home to a culture they feel comfortable with, Stravecky stated.
According to Stravecky, the biggest problem is adapting to a new culture can be the effects of Culture Shock. This condition is a recognized clinical condition as well as has been documented in 1958. When new employees and families come to Puerto Rico, they encounter a culture that is unlike the one they have known, according to Ms. Stravecky. She explained there are small cultural nuances that can make relocating traumatic, such as the differences in how the doctors and government does business and the unpunctuality engrained in Puerto Rican society.
“The most important thing that you have to let go when relocating is asking “why?”. Why doesn’t this or that work in the same way that you are used to? You don’t have to like the way things work, but you have to accept and respect them.” Stravecky said.
Culture shock can be a big problem when running a business. Stravecky said many times managers and other employees who come from the mainland are used to a certain way of doing business, a way that is often incompatible with the way people do business in Puerto Rico. She further notes that many Expats only have a short amount of time to complete and assignment and do not have time to waste a year of adaptation and mistakes. She explained that by the time the person adopts the local culture, the damage may already be done and the work relationships might already be strained. “That is why it is important to offer the proper support from the beginning so they don.t take six months or one year to adapt to local culture.”
Stravecky herself went through the process of relocation, moving to Puerto Rico eight years ago when her husband was assigned to the island.
“I didn.t have the benefit of cultural training; I had to learn everything the hard way.. She said the learning curve was hard on her and the entire family. “You have to learn things are done differently here from anywhere else,”
she said, noting that this is true when relocating to any new environment.
Her experience relocating to the island helps her help other newcomers through her counseling compan”. Relocation Counseling & Consulting provides two-day workshops for newcomers which include everything, from how to handle business relationships to sampling local cuisine. The workshops are designed to give newcomers a summary of the practical aspects of daily living and working on the island as well as an overview of Puerto Rican culture, such as history, government, society and social etiquette. The program helps newcomers gain a deeper understanding of Puerto Rican values, behaviors and attitudes, the counselor said. Stravecky also offers on-on-one therapy sessions to help individuals better cope with relocating to the island or any other life challenge they may have.
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