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7. February 2023

7 tips for intercultural work

Culture influences our working life: a colleague’s aversion to new tools and ways of working, a colleague’s sympathy for clear structures and rules, or a colleague’s relaxed approach to deadlines – this can result in conflicts! But this is not inevitable! Intercultural competencies promote understanding for each other and strengthen cooperation.

Other countries – other customs: When we are on holiday, it is quite clear to us that many things work differently in the local country. In our everyday work, however, cultural differences are often underestimated. We assume that someone else will work and think just as we do. And working with people from many different countries is already the norm in many companies, thanks to globalisation and the shortage of skilled workers.

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


When a new employee from another country joins the company, colleagues can prepare themselves for the experience. Consider holding a workshop to work out what the cultural differences are. You can do this by referring to models, such as the six cultural models described by Geert Hofstede.

These models illuminate 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 continue to influence these countries and their people to this day.

One can also look at how members of a culture relate to legal norms. Parking the wrong way or driving too fast? Cheating on an exam? No big deal in Austria. In other countries, such offences are regarded more strictly. In Norway, disregarding the speed limit or parking the wrong way is subject to severe punishment. And in the United States, you may be reported if you cheat.

These models are tools for employees to get a feel for their new colleague’s culture, customs and ways of thinking. But watch out – there are naturally cultural differences within countries, too! After all, it is difficult to compare a Burgenländer with a Vorarlberger.

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

Name a Diversity Ambassador

Live diversity in your company. A Diversity Ambassador – or Cultural Representative (for example, someone from HR) – can be the point of contact when there are conflicts, lead diversity programs, train team members on cultural differences or organise cross-cultural 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 in at the company and also in the country. For example, they can help with official business or translations, give tips for leisure activities with the family or simply be available to answer questions about the day-to-day running of the company. This makes new colleagues feel welcome and helps them find their way around the new country and company.

Watch for symptoms of culture shock

Culture shock cannot be underestimated and can lead to new employees leaving the company quickly. Culture shock can have many causes – the distance from family and friends, different climates, different food and customs and more.

Typical symptoms of culture shock include stress reactions such as headaches, the person may suffer from insomnia, has reduced performance and avoids contact with colleagues.

It is important to approach the topic with sensitivity! After all, these symptoms could well have another cause. A buddy can be helpful in case of culture shock. But regular staff discussions can also help to support the person in their arrival in the new country.

Inclusion instead of integration

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

Integration means that someone should adapt themselves to my culture. Inclusion means that we accept being different and embrace the other person and their value system. And we ourselves are ready to change.

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 to international professionals as an employer.

Variety is the spice of life

The poet William Cowper said this well. This is why you enjoy cultural differences in the company. How would it be to have a Turkish tea ceremony before a meeting, an evening of Syrian music and dances or a lunch where everyone brings something from their own national cuisine? Workshops where international employees present customs and traditions from their country can also promote mutual understanding.

Beginnings are easy

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

And of course job postings in English and on international job boards can help you reach more international candidates!


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

Your contact with the Welcome Service

Mag. Ulrike Klingenschmid

Talent Attraction Management, Welcome Service

+43 5 7599 722 74

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