Other societies often have different systems of evaluating employees, and some have none at all. The evaluation process could be intimidating and even confusing for immigrant employees. It should not be assumed that all employees understand the concept or purpose of an evaluation, particularly self-evaluation. In some cultures meeting privately with your supervisor usually indicates a problem and the evaluation whether it is positive or not, may be misinterpreted as a reprimand. When reviewing an employee’s performance it is critical that the employee understands the scope, purpose, of the evaluation and expectations of the job he/she is performing. Americans can be very direct in confronting issues, particularly if an employee’s work performance needs to be improved. This approach can be interpreted as personal criticism or threatening, especially by people from cultures that are more indirect and subtle than ours. The concept of “saving face” is important in many cultures and may require an employer to present desired behavior changes with a firm but positive approach.
Question: I gave my employee an excellent evaluation with only a few things to work on, but she seemed confused and upset. Why?
Your employee probably does not understand the process of an evaluation. In her country, evaluations were probably not given or were not an opportunity for dialogue. In some other countries, supervisors give instructions that usually are not challenged or even discussed. She may think you are unhappy with her performance but did not want to tell her directly. Explain the concept of American evaluations and explain that she can ask questions and respond openly during the process.
Question: I need a real go-getter. Why is my employee so passive?
Not all cultures value or encourage individuality and the freedom of choice which are common in American culture. In many cultures individual decision-making is rare or not possible — either in the workplace or in one’s personal life. Therefore asking employees to “decide for themselves” may result in blank stares or misunderstandings. This is particularly true among employees who feel that it is the supervisor’s role to make decisions and their role to execute the given instructions.
Encouraging employees to take control of their jobs and demonstrate initiative is a skill that can be cultivated. Employers may need to create opportunities to incrementally build the skills and confidence of employees to make independent decisions.
Question: My employee has shown great work behavior and I’d like to promote her to a lead position, but she refuses to step up to the position. Why?
Reluctance to accept a promotion may be caused by one of several factors. The employee may fear that accepting the promotion will be offensive to his peers. For example, if the employee is a woman, she may be unable to see herself in a position of authority over men, should the position call for it (see also Cultural Issues: Gender). Or she may be reluctant to move into a position of authority over an elder (see also Cultural Issues: Age, Authority Figures and Hierarchy), even if the senior employee is an American. Reluctance to leave a peer group or insecurity about language ability and cultural savvy may also result in refusal of a promotion. Asking about how a similar promotion might have been offered in her country of origin, or what kind of person there might hold such a position, could open the door to conversation about any fears or inhibitions the employee may have.