Indian Culture, cultural differences employers need to know before hiring talent in India

India- The Hub of Cultural Diversities:

India is a diverse land of an interesting blend of cultures, religions, languages, customs, considerable regional differences and more. It is believed that every few hundred miles, one experiences a shift in language, customary practices and traditions. India is not a ‘land of snake charmers’ anymore but this fast-growing economy has much more to offer. In India, culture is the cornerstone for fundamental beliefs about how business is done. Doing business in a particular nation requires a focus on a multi-dimensional understanding of its culture and business practices. India is not an exception. Being aware of the practice and willingness to adapting them is key to success when the business is in its nascent stage. When you look at India as your next destination of business, striking the right chord with the Indian candidate is a key to establish the first brick of your business foundation.

Your First Employee:

Complexity in doing business in India is not confined to the regulatory matters and bureaucratic challenges, as is largely believed. The real battle begins when you start devising your business plans and think of your first incumbent in India. Hiring employees in India is a factor which is as critical as other areas of business and needs a thoughtful approach. The first hire or the candidate who chooses to accept the job with you is pivotal to your initial success in India. This person would represent your ‘brand’ in the Indian market and therefore, while recruiting the very first employee (and of course the subsequent ones), cultural awareness about the job seekers in India will certainly be helpful.

Understanding the psyche of Indian employees, their expectations from new employers, mindset towards career and most importantly, their traditional values is an imperative before you commence your recruitment process. A ‘job’ for the working population in India is just not a source of ‘bread and butter’ but forms a base to social status, eligibility for mortgage and marriage prospects. Therefore, it is important to note that the candidates in India are extremely sensitive about the role they get into, their designations and the company standard. Employees prefer and endeavour to have maximum job security. This factor has cultural precedence because the earlier generation was mostly associated with secure and sustaining government jobs or private, less hectic and stable jobs with large Indian corporations started and run by a business family, in pre-independence era, typically.

The Safety Factor:

A high amount of emphasis is placed on the documentation part and candidates feel ‘secure’ when their prospective employer explicitly shares all the terms and benefits in writing with them before they join the organization. As such, the standard followed is issuance of a ‘Letter of Intent’ (LOI) or ‘Offer Letter’ as the first formal document indicating the interest and intent of the organization in engaging with the prospective employee. The same is followed by a detailed ‘Employee Agreement’ which is more extensive and comprehensive detailing all terms and conditions of employment. This is a standard hiring documentation procedure in India and, owing to the cultural thinking of the employees, this procedure is viewed as ‘fair’ and ‘legal’ by employees.

Cultural Surprises:

Indians honour family values a lot. Spending time with family, attending events like worships, weddings and other religion-based rituals are top priority for most Indians. Therefore, leaves are planned and consumed. There are often occasions where they consume half days or unplanned leaves due to personal commitments and hence many organizations design a policy with adequate Privilege (Long), Casual (short) and Sickness related leaves. Many states have mandatory holidays across the above categories.

Often ‘Sir’ or ‘Madam’ is used by Indian candidates/employees to express their respect towards their bosses. They generally feel awkward to call senior employees by their first name. It is common for candidates to use vernacular terms in day-to-day communication. Foreign employers notice this during interviews too. Sense of attire varies across states and hence companies need to specify the dress code for interviews and during general working days. Once you are ready to hire employees for your venture in India, you should try gathering CVs of the prospective employees and also ask recruiters to share their assessment reports on the employee/s. The assessment report must have such questions based on hypothetical scenarios that the answers would reveal few cultural opinions of the employee, for example: What is your take on work-life balance? Is working late and working on week-ends (alternately sacrificing family time for work) acceptable to you?

Key Factors to Note

  • The Great Indian Middle Class presents businesses with a large market opportunity.
  • A large pool of candidates is readily available.
  • There is a good availability of well educated, English speaking managerial workforce.
  • Candidates look for secure and long lasting jobs generally. Contract jobs or jobs with fixed term are generally chosen as the last resort.
  • Candidates like to speak during the interviews and sometimes end up overselling their candidature.
  • While hiring employees and interviewing them, it is critical to give them the larger picture of the Company’s business plan in India and reassure your commitments to operate in the Indian market.
  • Employees play ‘safe’ between jobs. They generally evaluate a couple of opportunities before they accept a job offer. At times, they drop out at the last minute stating they got a ‘better’ job elsewhere.

Points to Ponder:

Aggressiveness is often seen as a sign of disrespect. This may lead to a complete lack of communication and motivation on the part of the Indians. Employers needs to take the time to get to know them as individuals during the interview in order to develop professional trust.

Art of saying ‘NO’- An Indian who hesitates to say ‘No’ is actually trying to convey that he/she is willing to try, but presuming the task to be unrealistic in nature, he may worry whether he would get the job done. It is important to create a safe and comfortable work environment where it is okay to say “No” and also okay to make mistakes without the fear of repercussions or retaliations.

Progressive Indian employees can be quite assertive and direct and it is recommended to treat them in the same manner. Humility and honesty are virtues. Women are treated with dignity at the workplace. They earn respect and feel safe and secure in most organizations in India . Therefore, employers need to ensure that the atmosphere is conducive for women. A legislative framework to maintain safety of women exists in the form of ‘The Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace Act 2013’.

Humour in the workplace is not a common thing. Most traditional Indians are teetotallers/vegetarians, so their eating habits need to be respected. Westernized Indians are more outgoing and do socialize and drink. Employees place a stress on great personal bonding and relationships at workplace. This fosters their growth and acceptance. For foreign employers, in the Indian market, the pace, pressure and protocol of living and working in a new country can be overwhelming.

Having said that, there are many positive aspects to living, working and doing business in India. They include: The colourful approach of Indians towards celebrating their rich traditions, long lasting, valued friendships that one makes with Indians, the beautiful and exotic places to visit, the wide range of culinary delights to experiment with, and the opportunities to socialize. From temples to tourist spots, from rivers to seas, from farms to food lands, each zone is an interesting business zone. Shopping could be a delight in these zones, as well!

A foreign employer who has the readiness to accept the aforesaid differences and demonstrate the willingness to adaptation and comply with the aforementioned factors will definitely experience the rich taste of success in all business practices including acquiring talent in India.

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