Culture shock is a well-known phenomenon in global relocation. However, many companies fail to recognize and address culture shock when it happens closer to home. Employees moving North to South or East to West within the same country are actually just as likely to experience some form of culture shock as if they had moved around the world, though perhaps not to the same degree. The difference is how we treat them.
What is Domestic Culture Shock?
Within the United States, there are significant dialect differences between Colorado and Georgia, Boston and New Orleans, even Northern and Southern California. There are different foods, different sporting events, and different ways of getting business done. Even things that seem familiar at face value may actually be completely different beneath the surface. For instance, some national chain restaurants have different menus in different locations. And social norms and manners can vary considerably in different parts of America. What is considered normal behavior in one place might be quite rude in others. As a result, domestic transferees can experience some of the same dissonance as global assignees.
Why it Matters
The problem with domestic culture shock is that we don’t acknowledge it and usually do nothing to help employees cope with the changes around them. We incorrectly assume that living anywhere in the same country, with people who speak more or less the same language, will make the transition easy.
Employees themselves are usually woefully unprepared for the changes. If an assignee were moving from New England to India, he would expect dramatic differences and be at least somewhat mentally prepared for them. Moving from place to place in the US, we barely give these differences a thought. And when you’re not prepared for the many differences, their importance becomes magnified. Accents that are charming when you’re on vacation become annoying. Public transit and traffic patterns are mystifying. You can’t find your favorite regional foods at the market.
Domestic culture shock remains largely ignored. However, it is still a powerful force that can have lasting implications for the success of the relocation. It is worth giving additional thought to the way seemingly minor details, taken together, can cause dislocation and ultimately affect the job itself. Candidate assessment tools, including self-assessments, can help to identify candidates who have the flexibility and adaptability to succeed in a different environment.