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Expat’s diary: How Mellissa Ferrier adapted to the Indian work culture
Prajjal Saha | HRKatha | New Delhi | Thursday, 24 September 2015

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Born and brought up in Australia, Mellissa has been working in India since 2008. In the last seven years, she has adapted to the Indian work environment. HR Katha captures her experience of working in India. 

Love, Indian food and career brought Mellissa Ferrier to India.

A senior manager with the Leadership and People Sciences team, at Wipro Technologies, Mellissa grew up in the Aussie ‘bush’. Back then, she never imagined that she would have an international career or get to live in three different continents.

After earning her degree in Psychology, her first professional stint was with an executive search firm in Melbourne, Australia. Eager to explore the world, she headed for London, to take a course in CIMA Management Accounting certification. In her mid-20s, she moved to Genève and then to Zurich, for a few years, where she learnt French and found a passion in skiing and long- distance running.

She returned to London and decided to change careers, moving from accounting to psychology. She completed her MSc in occupational psychology and joined a small firm, Thomson Dunn, in London.

Though, she had visited India quite a few times as a tourist, she shifted base only in 2008.

Unfortunately, her previous visits had already influenced her opinion about th Indian work culture.

“Frankly, I had imagined that the work culture in India will be as chaotic as the external environment, but to my surprise, I found it to be full of variety, interesting work tasks, and also the fact that it was more relationship- oriented than the West”, says Mellissa.

Mellisa’s first job in India was in Chennai.

“It was an exciting and unforgettable experience,” she quips.

“Initially, the heat, lack of infrastructure, laid back and fluid working style were all frustrating. But, eventually, I was able to adapt,” she adds.

Till then, Mellissa was used to a planned and structured work environment, which she missed even while working for MNCs in India.

“My colleagues seemed to relish using last-minute and trial-and-error approaches to get things done,” was her point of contention.

Back in London, she was exposed to an environment where she could plan her time and work towards set objectives in an independent way.

On the contrary, in Chennai, she realised that a lot of time was spent just arriving at a consensus, and where ever a group was involved, the time taken was even longer. But there was an advantage to the situation as well. It was helpful in executing a project in the longer run.

In her early days in India Inc., Mellissa also faced few challenges in terms of understanding her colleagues and their communication styles. In Europe, she was used to colleagues who were direct, transparent and concise about their opinions, while the responses of Indian colleagues were a lot more indirect and diplomatic.

She soon adapted to the Indian sensibilities and learnt to tone down her directness and also got better at reading non-verbal cues.

When asked to describe the Indian work culture, she came up with two phrases —‘boundary less’ and ‘last minute’.

She opines that personal and professional boundaries are very fluid in India.

“The colleagues, I have worked with, have an incredibly strong work ethic and drive to get ahead in life; this leads them to work most nights and also on weekends. They rarely go for vacations except for family or friends’ engagements or festivals.”

On the last minute rush, she says, “In an ever changing and ambiguous environment, it is challenging to plan and structure your work. I think there is also a preference to work in a spontaneous, ‘in the moment’ way. It feels like a lot of people here are juggling several personal and professional responsibilities at the same time, which makes planning harder.”

What she doesn’t approve of about the Indian work culture is the ‘hierarchical work style’ and ‘status orientation’.

“Many of my colleagues are more at ease taking direction and playing only execution roles. There is a reluctance and unease about pushing push back and questioning the way things are done or why they are being done in the first place,” Mellissa opines.

“As most organisations are somewhat hierarchical, it does take more time to align so many people. It also creates unnecessary bureaucracy as well as allows some to avoid taking accountability and ownership for outcomes,” she adds.

In spite of everything, Mellissa has got accustomed to the Indian work culture. “It is very exciting and intellectually challenging. There is so much variety — no day is the same. People are also mostly relationship oriented. So, your work relationships are deeper and more meaningful,” she concludes.

(With the globalisation of economy, a large number of expats are joining the India Inc. This column explores the experience of working in India from an outsiders’ viewpoint.)

© 2016 HR Katha
Last modified on Thursday, 24 September 2015

4 comments

  • Comment Link Margie Parikh Friday, 25 September 2015 posted by Margie Parikh

    Great piece! One could find almost everything mentioned in the textbook chapter on National Culture. Would like to see the author's full interview notes if possible, for academic interest.

  • Comment Link Suresh Friday, 25 September 2015 posted by Suresh

    Melissa has adopted the Indian way of life ie get involved emotionally with colleagues and you will find the work becomes easier and that is how Indian people adopt to any environment and culture.that is how many Indians successful employees and bussiness in many countries. This Hindu philosophy and is way of life.

    Many Indians in india have started adopting western culture and they have no respect for there own culture. More more children should be taught Ramayana, Mahabaharatha and Bhagavatha and message will go round. Sanskrit must be compulsorily taught along with mother tounge during their primary school stage than to teach all sorts of subjects.

  • Comment Link Ajay Thursday, 24 September 2015 posted by Ajay

    Good article, basically in Rome, do as Romans do.
    Similarly many Indians working in companies abroad have learnt to "be direct" and "push back" while working in environments there.

  • Comment Link nirmalyadebnath Thursday, 24 September 2015 posted by nirmalyadebnath

    Nice views.Indian organisation can only grow dynamically if they follow Indian culture (maintaining good relationship and paying respect to peers) at workplace strongly.

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