Does Cross-Cultural Competency Improve Job Performance?

Organizations may hire expatriates in high-tech positions based on their technological aptitude rather than on their cross-cultural or personal merit.

On the other end, expatriates may accept a position without being cross-culturally competent or familiar with the country.

A study of expatriates in the high-tech industry reveals some interesting findings on the subject.

Let’s take a look.

What is Cross-Cultural Competency?

The study defines cross-cultural competence as follows:

“the ability of individuals to work effectively and live normally in different cultural contexts, and…to adopt adaptive thinking patterns and behaviors in the host country.”

Using collected questionnaire survey data, the study identifies expatriate challenges in their new role and proposes ways in which expatriates can adjust psychologically.

Challenges

Challenges to expatriates include:

When these challenges lead to excessive pressure, psychological and even physical symptoms can occur.

That isn’t to say that all pressure is bad, however. 

An appropriate application of pressure can drive employees to progress in their work smoothly and help the adaptation process.

How Adaptation Can Help

Those expatriate employees who adapt to their host country’s culture and customs participate more in the workplace and find more ways to alleviate stress.

Moreover, those employees with high cross-cultural competency also adjust to their host country more smoothly and have a higher job performance.

Setback Period

There is a setback period when expatriates first begin working in their new role.

Unforeseen situations coupled with cultural incompetency and potential incomplete assignments lead to wariness of expatriate employees.

The expatriate needs to navigate the setback period successfully in order to adapt to their cross-cultural environment and achieve in their job performance.

Cross-cultural skills will help this transition, as the expatriate will sooner accept the foreign culture, the environment, and their co-workers.

The Study’s Findings

To achieve cross-cultural competence, the expatriate must initially recognize the differences between old and new environments in order to spot potential conflicts between the two and find ways to overcome them in order to integrate.

Using the reported data, the study found that the stronger an expatriate employee’s level of cross-cultural competence, the better their performance in both the host country and in their job.

Job involvement is also improved by the employee’s ability to adjust to customs. 

This is likely due to the fact that those who can adjust to the host country generally release more work stress and enjoy greater life satisfaction.

Moreover, those able to adjust to work contexts better feel less frustrated and achieve more in their role.

An accumulation of negative pressures can lead to poor job performance, while positive pressures can drive expatriates to achieve individual and work success.

The bottom line is: cross-cultural competency can improve job performance by smoothing the transition and reducing stress.