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Avoid the Pitfalls of International HR Management

Human resource (HR) management in today’s international business world involves many unique challenges. Whether domestic or international in scope, the HR team must develop and maintain a workforce that will support and effectively execute an organization’s mission and goals. This task is not simple and often further complicated when involving globalized people management for multinational organizations.

Labor laws vary widely around the globe, as do cultural and societal norms surrounding work and employment. Therefore, the modern HR manager or director has much to think about when considering the recruitment and management of people in different global markets. Antiquated HR management models may not serve organizational goals optimally in every market’s economy, whether foreign or domestic.

As the performance of talented people is the basis of a business’s success, modern business studies that are global in scope address these and other pitfalls of international HR management. For those interested in tackling these challenges professionally, the University of North Carolina Wilmington (UNCW) offers in-depth study of the complexities of globalized HR management through its online Master of Business Administration (MBA) with a Specialization in International Business program.

How Does Employment Law Affect International HR Management?

A major concern for managing HR in foreign markets is international employment law. Simply put, laws are different in every nation. Even in areas such as the European Union, where well over 20 countries follow a wider set of accepted labor regulations, there are still individual variances from country to country.

Before launching a team to expand a business venture into a new foreign market, HR management must fully grasp the country’s employment laws. This requires extensive research and consulting experts on laws and regulations in that country. Additionally, the employment laws in some countries do not translate into practice consistently. Again, centralized HR management must find and recruit experienced individuals who know the nuances of law and practice in each new market. With this expertise, the company can modulate its HR management model to be effective and lawfully compliant within that market.

What Do Cultural and Societal Norms Have to Do with HR Management?

On one level, it may seem common sense: HR deals primarily with managing people. HR management should therefore strive to understand cultural differences among the people they employ, as well as what motivates them to perform and what provides job satisfaction. The ongoing growth of global virtual teams and the challenges inherent to virtual collaboration further reinforce the need for leadership skilled in the nuances of cross-cultural HR management, whether in person or remote.

This involves understanding variances in cultural norms of politeness, communication styles and other aspects of what makes each individual feel comfortable and respected on the job. But it also requires delving further into cultural and societal perceptions and customs regarding work and interaction.

The concept of professionalism in one society may be perceived differently in another. Punctuality is of utmost importance in some cultures, whereas being “on time” may be considered rude or imposing in others. The “nine to five with a lunch break” workday model is not universal. In many places, people work at different times or spread the workday out with a long break in the middle. Forcing people in such cultures to conform to the typical American workday could, in effect, isolate them from their communities and families, affecting motivation and job performance. These are simplistic examples, but they illustrate the importance of broadening one’s cultural perspective to better manage individuals and teams across the globe.

What About Internal Business Culture?

Globalizing an organization’s business practices does not automatically create a unified global culture for that organization. Effective centralized HR management works diligently to foster a unified business culture supporting that organization’s goals and mission. Plus, today’s job seekers value a company’s culture — often more than pay.

However, it can be difficult to get people around the world to connect in collaborative purpose, bridging their differing cultures to form a collective international culture within the company. Video conferencing can only go so far. Ideally, HR can help address these divides through international conferences and other opportunities for global teams to interact and collaborate in person. If this is not an option, HR should strive to enrich virtual and hybrid collaboration experiences with a focus on culture building.

Moreover, a business’s internal culture may be so entrenched in its encapsulating society’s norms that it translates poorly to other societies. As mentioned above, leadership must carefully consider the HR management model along with the company’s internal culture. These constructs are intertwined and may need to be modulated and iterated as appropriate to best suit varying norms in differing cultures and societies.

International HR management is both challenging and fascinating. Overcoming inherent cultural challenges presents a unique opportunity for HR managers and directors to affect a company’s broader sense of global awareness, diversifying cultural perspectives at the individual and structural levels. Advancing cultural awareness throughout an organization can help every department become more successful when expanding into new markets. In this way, effective international HR management can provide a strong foundation for successful international business as a whole. Through courses like International Human Resource Management, students in UNCW’s online MBA in International Business program develop the skill set to avoid or overcome such challenges in international HR management.

Learn more about UNCW’s online MBA with a Specialization in International Business program.

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