‘Don’t always make eye contact’ – Common workplace errors for foreigners

For foreign employees entering the Singapore workplace, the cultural differences can be daunting. HR can help new workers out by pointing out these common mistakes

‘Don’t always make eye contact’ – Common workplace errors for foreigners
Although Singapore prides itself on its international image, there are still slight cultural nuances which foreign employees should be made aware of.
HRD talked to Loo Mei Yee, senior coach, and Kenneth Oh, marketing manager, at Executive Coach International about behaviour that foreign workers should avoid within the Singaporean work environment. HR should keep these in mind to understand the potential gaffes their new workers may make.
  1. While westerners generally make eye contact when talking, foreign employees should be told that some Singaporeans don’t look eye-to-eye when having a conversation.
  2. They should also be made aware that there is a strict division between work and social lives. “Work is work. Social is social,” said Loo. “I will hang around you during work time so having lunch is acceptable. I might not be going out with you for a drink for example.”
  3. HR should urge foreign PMEs to stick to the hierarchy within the company. If they have a complaint, always go to their superior; never go higher than that. “If they jump to their boss’ boss who then questions their boss, it’s going to make people very unhappy,” said Oh.
In order to make the transition easier, Loo suggested that HR form an understanding of the foreign worker’s culture as well.
“How well-versed is HR in other cultures besides the Singapore culture?” Loo asked. “Do they know how to speak the language of other nationalities? What is HR used to?”
“A foreign worker will need someone that understands them and can ease them into the culture. Can the HR person do that? Do they know British culture? Do they know Australian culture?”
Knowledge of mistakes like the ones mentioned above is the start to a greater two-way dialogue between HR and incoming foreign staff about how to best work together despite the differences.
Related stories:
Inside LG's 'foreign service' strategy
How can we encourage formal English in the workplace?
Why you should be actively seeking a diverse workforce

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