(sorry in advance for being less concrete about the country where the company is situated in and also where the new co-worker is coming from and about the gender of the co-worker. I did this for anonymity's sake since I do not know if anyone of the comapny is active on this board)

I work in the department that deals with process development in a mid-size Software Development company which is located in Central Europe. We got a new co-worker recently who is from a country that was in former times part of the British Raj (as I said, I will not directly name the country for reasons of anonymity) and I see that there are some cultural differences to overcome.

In order to specify what I mean with "cultural differences to overcome", I think I need to state what my imagination/prejudice of the working culture in the Indian subcontinent is:

If you work in the Indian subcontinent in the Software Development branch, you work in a big enterprise where you are not seen as an employee who needs to be respected, who has human demands and individuality, you are seen as a servant. You are not supposed to be creative or state suggestions, you will do exactly what you are told to do with no deviations. Subordination is key - if you are assigned as a Chaiwalla although you wanted to be a programmer, then you have to accept that. But if you serve well for at least ten years or so, you will have the privilege to get to the desired position.

I highlighted the word serve, because I think our co-worker has this serving mentality from "over there": If I or my superior give her/him instructions to anything work related, show her/him work-related technologies, she/he constantly nods and says "OK... OK... OK...". It is annoying and she/he has obviously the need (it seems) to show all the time, that he/she is subordinate and will never object. I could tell her/him the stupidest horse s*** and she/he will still say "OK". He/She constantly adresses my superior formally with "Mr./Mrs. xyz" although all colleagues adress themselves just with the forename, which is of course more personal and casual.

Why is this a problem you may ask?
We do not need a reserved servant, who is to afraid to object and think outside the box. In our department, we need exactly the opposite: you are supposed to be creative, you must elaborate your own solutions (and justify them) and pick and schedule tasks on your own.

So the questions is:
How can I help the co-worker to get rid of this tension, this unease - seemingly originating from the programmer-factory mentalities of India/Pakistan/Bangladesh - from the co-worker? I see otherwise no chance for the co-worker to stay in that position, which would be a bit sad because I also see that the co-worker wants to prove herself/himself as diligent.

  • 2
    Why was this person hired in the first place? Didn't this subject come up during interviewing?
    – Erik
    Commented Jun 18, 2018 at 5:17
  • 2
    At a place I worked we had many staff over from India, we would give them 3 months, in that time some had been "broken" and they stayed with us, some were still unable/willing to think for themselves we sent them home.
    – WendyG
    Commented Jun 18, 2018 at 9:29

1 Answer 1


Yes, there is a cultural difference (in some cases, significant) between those who've grown up and worked in the Indian sub-continent and those who've grown up and/or live in the western nations, with some exceptions. I would use the word subordinate instead of servant to describe this approach. In Indian continent/culture, a person of higher authority and/or age, is expected to be respected and followed, in most cases, without hesitation - ofcourse, the younger generation is somewhat different and there are many exceptions to this. However, this is the general principle taught and embedded in their psyche, as they grow up.

This can be handled, however, the success of your approach is not entirely dependent on you or the company's policy etc. Behavioral patterns, especially those embedded in a person through their upbringing are generally hard to change.

That said - this can be handled in several ways in my opinion:

  1. If you're this employee's manager, you can communicate, in a rather casual conversation, that they need not address individuals with Mr/Mrs but the first name will suffice. Second, you can state clearly that as a manager, you expect thoughtful contributions which include offering differing opinions. Explain to them why you think critical feedback/independent opinions are important to you.

  2. If you're not this individual's boss, you can identify a resource/individual who may be closer to this individual e.g. maybe a colleague who this individual hangs out with most or may feel comfortable talking to/confiding into. This would be an indirect way of communicating the same message, but again with caution. This individual's cultural inclination will require a rather subtle approach to communicating your perspective/expectations.

  3. You could work with the HR to setup a training session, where you could use that opportunity to communicate the communication and work culture aspects. There are several online references/videos/training material that cater to such cultural differences that can come handy.

The effectiveness of these approaches is dependent on many things, a few of them are below:

  1. The length of time this individual has worked with your company/in Western Europe. Over time, individuals may change their approach/behavior. So, it may just be a matter of time before things get better.

  2. Communication approach - formal communication (may be less effective in my opinion as it may lead to resentment, fear etc.) vs informal communication

  3. Individual personality - the employee from the sub-continent will also have to be willing for the attitude to change. Ofcourse, often times this isn't something you can influence as much as you'd like to. However, your techniques may have some positive impact

  • 3
    There are subtle details to work on. Our indian colleague is still unable to say "no", but he did learn "this is not gonna work", which fills nearly the same role, and that's enough for having the information we need to go on.
    – gazzz0x2z
    Commented Jun 18, 2018 at 8:22
  • I'm from India and I would just like to add a point regarding "However, this is the general principle taught and embedded in their psyche, as they grow up." It's something that's forced onto us by the totalitarian bosses. There are bosses who make you do double work, who refuse to listen to you even when they're wrong, who force you to pick up multiple on-going responsibilities from several teams in spite of your protesting that you don't have the capacity to take it up and these bosses are blindly supported by the HRs. That's why attrition is very high here. People quit their bosses, not jobs
    – Mugen
    Commented Jul 8, 2019 at 5:41

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