Intercultural working environments based on the example of embassies in Vienna

Principal Investigators: Prof. (FH) Mag. Silvia Kucera

Collaborators: Master students 2007-08; Mag. (FH) Roksela Miha
Duration of the project: 8 months (exploratory phase)

Point of departure
The overall goal of this research endeavor was to gain a deeper understanding of intercultural working environments in the specific setting of the city of Vienna. This encompasses the examination of the employees’ appraisal of cultural impact factors on operative procedures, and likewise the puzzle of which of those impact factors are attributed to culture in the employees’ individual perception. To concretize our research objectives, we chose embassies, as their employees very likely constitute a sample which represents all factors to be analyzed in the subsequent research.

Research methods
During the exploratory phase, employees of Vienna-based embassies were interviewed as regards their perception of collaborating with local institutions, and potential intercultural impact factors in the relationship between themselves and external partners. By doing so, we were particularly curious to find out which of those impact factors were attributed to culture. In order to isolate key variables, which are pertinent to culturally informed perception differences, we focused on the items listed below: local and national holidays and calendars, time management in the context of locally accepted and time-related behavior, personality aspects (such as punctuality, table manners, and greeting etiquette), the language barrier, and perceived cultural differences of service providers (e.g. education facilities, health sector enterprises, financial institutions, shops, and public means of transportation). The core empirical research instrument employed in this project comprised structured interviews by e-mail, phone and in person (standardized questionnaire). The pilot study was conducted on all Vienna-based embassies (n=101), consulting one non-Austrian employee per embassy.

Results and findings
In this study, most significant results were revealed in the category of greeting behavior. Cross-tabulation with age variables demonstrates that the perception of greeting behavior correlates with the respondents’ age structure. People aged 41 to 60 identified local greeting patterns as a negative impact factor on their work behavior. In contrast, the cohort of respondents aged below 30 holds rather positive perceptions of the local greeting etiquette, whilst study participants between the ages of 31 and 40 displayed indifference to this item. We could not extrapolate either local and national holidays, location- and time-bound patterns of behavior, or personal aspects (e.g. punctuality) as cultural problem factors. Strikingly, table manners appears to cause intercultural perception differences. The low response rate on this item, however, does not allow for inferences of statistical relevance. It can only be assumed that this trend is being shaped by a gender-specific correlation. Likewise, no significant results were found in the realm of enterprises (i.e. provision of services). Yet, the positive perception of the Viennese public transport system across all categories (such as gender and age) proved to be an exception to this rule. The continuation and further elaboration of this study is currently in the stage of planning, thus corresponding with LBS’s special interest in temporary and permanent migration of highly skilled workforce.