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Surviving Culture Shock In the Workplace

Culture Shock can come with a host of unpleasant symptoms: anxiety, irritability, physical exhaustion, and an overall feeling of negativity toward your new culture. This can make adjusting to a new job even more stressful than usual. However, it’s important to recognize that these symptoms are temporary and to try your best to adjust to the new working environment. 


Hallmarks of US Working Culture 

It will be helpful to know a few elements you are bound to encounter in a US working environment, so you aren’t caught off guard. 

  • A high level of assertiveness and autonomy. Especially if you come from an Asian, Middle Eastern, or Southern European country, you might be surprised to find how assertive and autonomous people are in a US workplace. Don’t be afraid to speak your mind, but of course, be polite while doing so! Also, it’s common for supervisors to only give you a broad goal without supervising you closely. You are welcome to ask for input and feedback, but don’t be surprised if your manager isn’t checking in on you constantly. 
  • Direct communication. Workplaces in the US often feature a lot of honest, direct communication. If your supervisor tells you very clearly something you need to change about your behavior or performance, don’t take offense! We are not as accustomed to being subtle in our feedback. However, a word of warning: it’s not advisable for you to be as open in your criticism of people above you in your workplace hierarchy (if there is one); pay attention to how others communicate with their higher-ups and mimic this behavior. 
  • Individualism. The US workplace culture is very driven by the desire to succeed and progress in one’s career. Some see this as fostering a culture of competitiveness. The initiative is praised, and the most valuable employees are often those that don’t need a lot of oversight. 
  • Efficiency. “Time is money,” or so the popular US saying goes. Always be on time to work, and be as efficient as possible. It’s not unusual to lose a job over being late too many times. 
  • Make eye contact but don’t stand too close when speaking to your coworkers. People in the US find it impolite if you don’t make eye contact when speaking to them. What’s more, unlike in many countries, people in the US find it rude and uncomfortable when you stand too close. What’s “too close”? A good rule of thumb is to stand at least an arm’s distance away. Pay attention to other people’s body language as well. If you sense the other person keeps stepping back from you, that’s not an invitation to move closer. That’s them trying to increase the distance on purpose because they are uncomfortable with how close you are standing. 


Tips for Integrating into Any Workplace Culture 

  • Mimic the culture. One of the best ways to figure out a new culture is to watch and learn. Observe how your coworkers behave and interact with each other as well as your supervisors. Don’t expect others to adapt to you, but instead, try to adapt to your new workplace culture. 
  • Manage your frustration. One of the more common symptoms of culture shock is irritability. You’re bound to make mistakes in your new job, and you probably won’t love everything your new coworkers do either. Anticipate your reaction and identify ways to calm yourself when you’re feeling irritated: deep breaths, counting to 10, meditating before work, etc. You don’t want to be snapping at your new coworkers! 
  • Try Not to Compare. Another symptom of culture shock is the impulse to compare your old and new environments constantly. Try not to compare your old and new jobs; instead, focus on what you like about your new job, coworkers, and environment. 
    • Be patient with yourself. Just like managing culture shock outside the workplace, remember that it takes time to adjust to a new work environment. Don’t expect to do everything perfectly on the first day. Give yourself some grace, and remember that before long, you will start to feel comfortable and even at home in your new workplace!