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After a recent meeting, one of my team members asked me for feedback and advice on fitting in to work culture in our country (Canada). The team member is a recent immigrant and this is their first job in Canada. The question has stumped me since I was born here and am not familiar with the experience of being an immigrant, so I plan to follow up with him about what specifically he finds challenging or how he feels he isn't fitting in. But I thought the question was an interesting one: How can we help team members who are recent immigrants adapt to the local work culture? Has anyone else had a similar experience with a team member? How were you able to help them?

  • Can you mention which country is the person from? – Anish Sheela Mar 29 at 6:48
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    @AnishSheela Is this important? I understood the question as a general one, only supported with the "how I came to this question" story :) – Allerleirauh Mar 29 at 7:25
  • @Allerleirauh The general idea on most stackexchange sites is to ask a specific question. A good answer can then use that as a really specific example and hopefully show how it's aplicable more generally. In certain situations it's impossible to answer a general question in a "1 page" response but the people reading the specific answer can still figure out how to apply it to their own situation (or ask their own question if it's really different enough). – Imus Mar 29 at 9:25
  • @Imus Thank you. Is this an observation/consensus, or can I read this somewhere? (for my personal curiosity) – Allerleirauh Mar 29 at 9:29
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    You might get a couple of books (the exact titles are only examples) about culture shock for visitors to Canada and culture shock for visitors to Bangladesh. Between them you can see what your colleague may find strange about Canada - and you can understand more about their culture. amazon.com/Bangladesh-Culture-Smart-Essential-Customs/dp/… and amazon.com/Cultureshock-Canada-Survival-Customs-Etiquette/dp/… (Similar content may be available free on websites) – Owain Mar 29 at 21:42
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How the new employee adapts is going to depend on the differences, so getting to know the culture they're used to experiencing will help. The best way to do this is to ask them about it - you'll both feel best if there's a two-way process happening, and this is a shared social activity in itself.

Beware of stereotypes. While it might be true that someone from Norway might complain less about winter and someone from the UK might be more comfortable with polite understatement (sorry about that), this won't apply for everyone any more than the stereotype of Canada I've just thrown in there would apply to your existing staff.

Suggestions of guidance and a handbook are good - particularly if these are the same as are given to your current employees. While it's good to consider differences, too much attention could lead to the new member of staff feeling self-conscious. It may be helpful to think of it as you would someone joining from a local company with a different culture - "because John's used to doing it another way" rather than "because he's from somewhere else".

But if you're asking the question, you're already thinking along the right lines.

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A bit of indirect an direct guidance will speed up the immigration a lot.

Indirect guidance

Invite the new colleague to as many social occasion (coffee breaks, lunch, meetings, a drink after work, etc.) as possible just by participating and observing the person will understand the local working environment and what the usual practices are.

Direct guidance

Telling someone what to do/what not to do between colleagues can be seen as condescending, bossy and impolite nevertheless I find it helpful if I'm in a new environment and someone just tells me what the common rules are, especially the inofficial rules.

  • Maybe the second part should be offered actively, but not be started without "request" from the new colleague. – Allerleirauh Mar 29 at 7:22
  • Depending on the relationship with the colleague you're @Allerleirauh right about it that something like that should be offered and not forced open. But I think as the colleague in this case asked for help it wouldn't be impolite to casually explain some office rules while drinking a coffee or something. – GittingGud Mar 29 at 7:26
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    I agree, the "request" is there, if the colleague asked :) – Allerleirauh Mar 29 at 8:00
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    Canada is justly famous for helping overseas workers get settled. Call your MP's office or mayor's office and ask if there are useful government resources (books? web sites? training?) to help employers with new overseas workers. Seriously. – O. Jones Mar 30 at 19:01
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One thing that I have found in several places is an "Employee Handbook", and, especially for those coming from other countries, I have seen not only normal work customs ie when coffee breaks are, start times, end times and "core hours" etc, but information about:

  • banks and bank opening hours
  • laundry location
  • housing information and sources list not exhaustive...

In fact mentions of anything to do with "normal" life to enable those from a different social milieu to get up to speed.

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Which difference does it make whether the employee is an immigrant or not? In my current company, every starting employee gets two mentors: one for the technical questions and one for the more general ones (mentality, practical issues, ...). Obviously an immigrant might ask more practical questions but this should never be a reason not to assist people originating from your own country.

  • Someone from a different culture may be more unwilling to ask a question in case it comes across as a complaint or being disrespectful, or they may not even know that there is something they should ask about. This is why it's important to understand the culture they're coming from. – Owain Mar 30 at 20:06

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