The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) recently published a study about how much time people dedicate to work in different countries around the world. The initial survey was conducted across the 26 OECD member countries as well as China, India and South Africa. The survey required people from the ages of 15 to 64 to describe what they did on a typical day. The results of the survey are very interesting, particularly as they tend to contradict the many stereotypes that exist about how much time people spend doing business in other cultures.
Indeed, the cliché of a lazy Mexican, tired from the sun and sleeping in a hammock appears to be absolutely wrong as the study shows that Mexicans actually work the hardest. They work the longest days, are less paid compared to western countries, and also spend a lot of time doing chores at home. The image that Mexicans often portray through their more laid back cultural values and focus on relationships and family is deeply engrained in people’s minds as a culture which does not work very hard.
This is just one popular cultural stereotype that was proven wrong by the OECD study. Considering how many stereotypes can be misconstrued or false, it’s important to always look deeper than what you find on the surface to make sure that the assumption or judgement you have about a particular culture is accurate. Doing business in another culture can be hindered through inaccurate stereotypes or generalisations.
For instance the idea that French never work, often supported by coverage of the’35-hour work week’, is countered by the statistics that show that the French appear to be some of the most productive employees in the world. Some incorrectly believe that countries in Eastern Europe take the most holidays when they actually take fewer days than most of the developed countries in the European Union. In fact Germany not only has a high number of holidays, but its workforce spends the least amount of time working in the OECD.
Many cultural stereotypes are even more questionable as opinions tend to vary widely depending on whether the people are working in their home country or living in another as immigrants. For example, Mexicans in the US are seen as very hard workers who often work long hours and do harsh jobs, an image far from that we illustrated earlier.
By creating and supporting stereotypes that contradict real facts, people can risk making bad decisions based on false assumptions that could harm their business significantly. It’s important therefore to always question cultural stereotypes and check how accurate they may be. It is possible to use cultural stereotypes to your advantage as they can help you to simplify situations and anticipate behaviour across cultures, however if you are wrong you may find yourself facing drastic circumstances.
If you are doing business in another culture or if you are working with international counterparts, don’t get caught up believing what you hear as a false cultural stereotype can forever alter your relationship and success with them. The best way to completely understand the cultures you are doing business in is to participate in a cross-cultural awareness training programme. By providing you with detailed information about beliefs, values and behaviours you will find in the target culture, training will better equip you to break down stereotypes and build stronger business relationships based on cross-cultural trust.
© Communicaid Group Ltd. 2011