We expect to experience some degree of culture shock in global moves, and often provide cultural training to help mitigate it. But culture shock is rarely acknowledged for moves within the same country, and support to manage it is even rarer. Since neither companies nor relocating employees expect domestic culture shock, the situation becomes even more confounding.
Why It Happens
Many employees give little thought to regional and local differences when moving within their home country. They assume that even if they are moving from one coast to the other, that home is still home. The reality is that there are marked cultural differences throughout the US and in most larger countries. These differences can include values, life and work pace, dialect and the place of faith and religion. Of course, nobody is thinking about this when they are considering a promotion or a new opportunity in another state.
Many companies spend a significant amount of time preparing their international employees for relocation, including cultural and language training. The goal is to increase the employee and family comfort level with the language and culture and to reduce the risk of a costly failed assignment. An employee relocating within the same country might have an anecdotal understanding of the destination area from travel or TV and movies, but there are few resources to really learn about domestic cultural differences. Instead, companies need to rely on internal assets to help employees through the transition.
The Importance of Mentors
Assigning mentors within the company can help employees to get their bearings. A mentor can help the newcomers adapt to the new location and culture while also serving as a company culture touchstone, reinforcing any similarities in their environment. Ideally, the mentor relationship would begin as soon as the relocation is confirmed. This approach is simple and cost-effective: potential mentors are already available within your ranks and you incur no additional cost.
It is important for companies to consider the effects of culture shock both in and outside of their home country. Overlooking the challenges of intra-country relocation can result in failed relocations and the loss of valued employees. While there may be fewer cultural training resources available at home, mentoring can help to make the transition easier.