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7. February 2023

7 tips for intercultural working

Culture influences working life: a colleague’s aversion to new tools and ways of working or sympathy for clear structures and rules or an employee’s relaxed approach to deadlines – conflicts can sometimes arise! But this does not have to be the case! Intercultural competences promote mutual understanding and strengthen cooperation.

Other countries – other customs: When we are on holiday, it is quite clear to us that many things in the holiday country are different from what we are used to. In everyday working life, however, cultural differences are often underestimated. We assume that someone else works and thinks the same way as we do. And the fact that we work with people from many different countries is already the norm in many companies thanks to globalisation and the shortage of skilled workers.

These are our 7 tips on how intercultural cooperation can succeed, which we worked out together with the expert on intercultural communication, Wolfgang Schwaiger:

/ Prepare!

If a new employee comes to the company from another country, colleagues can prepare themselves for this. For example, work out in a workshop which cultural differences there are. You can do this by using models such as Geert Hofstede’s six cultural models.

These models shed light on factors that reflect cultural differences. For example: What historical events shape the culture of the country? The fall of the Soviet Union in Russia, apartheid in South Africa or gaining independence from Britain in India were events that still influence the country and its people today.

You can also look at how members of a culture relate to legal norms. Parking the wrong way or driving too fast? Cheating in an exam? A trivial matter in Austria. In other countries, such offences are dealt with more strictly. In Norway, disregarding the speed limit or parking the wrong way is punished severely. And in the USA, you are easily betrayed if you fib.

These models are tools for employees to get a feel for the culture, customs and ways of thinking of the new employee. But beware: even within a country there are of course cultural differences! After all, it is difficult to compare a Salzburg citizen with a citizen of the federal state Burgenland.

You can compare cultural differences according to Geert Hofstede’s model here.

/ Appoint a Diversity Ambassador

Live diversity in the company. A Diversity Ambassador – or Cultural Officer (for example someone from HR) – can be the contact person when there are conflicts, lead diversity programmes, train team members in cultural differences or organise intercultural events.

/ Introduce a buddy system

Assign new international employees their own buddy from within the company. Of course, this must be voluntary on both sides. The buddy helps the new colleague to settle into the company and the country. For example, he or she can help with administrative matters or translations, give tips on leisure activities with the family or simply be available to answer questions about everyday life in the company. This makes new colleagues feel welcome and helps them to find their way around in the new country and company.

/ Watch out for cultural shock

Culture shocks should not be underestimated and can lead to new employees leaving the company again soon. Culture shock can have many causes: the great distance to family and friends, different climates, different food and customs and much more.

Typical symptoms of culture shock are: Stress reactions, such as headaches, the person suffers from insomnia, has reduced performance and avoids contact with colleagues.

It is important to deal with the issue sensitively! After all, these symptoms can also have another cause. In the case of culture shock, a buddy can be useful. But regular staff meetings can also help to support the person in arriving well in the new country.

/ Inclusion instead of integration

It is important to establish an acceptance for diversity in the corporate culture. Inclusion instead of integration!

Integration means: Someone should adapt to my culture. Inclusion means: We accept being different and accept the other person with their value system. And we are also prepared to change ourselves.

Companies that live inclusion can develop a competitive advantage: they can look at things from different angles, they have an easier time in other markets because they already know the culture, and they are attractive as an employer for international professionals.

/ Variety is the spice of life

The poet William Cowper already said that. That’s why you enjoy cultural differences in your company. How about a Turkish tea ceremony before a meeting, an evening with Syrian music and dances or a lunch where everyone brings something from the country’s cuisine? Workshops where international staff present customs and traditions from their country can also promote mutual understanding.

/ All beginnings are easy

Right from the start, companies can help new colleagues feel at home: Invite international professionals to apply as early as in the job advertisement. A simple “We expressly welcome international applicants” is inviting and appealing. Draw attention to specific programmes that support new team members from abroad or trainee programmes.

And of course: English job advertisements and international job boards help to reach more international candidates!


These tips are not a panacea for successful intercultural cooperation. It is important to deal with the topic again and again and to be aware that not everyone is, acts and thinks like you do. If you have questions about working with international employees or want to expand your recruitment to an international level, we will be happy to advise you!

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