Inpat: a foreign employee brought in to work at the U.S. location/culture from another country/culture
Netpat: a foreign-based employee who interacts with the U.S. location/culture from another country/culture primarily through the use of technology
To illustrate, suppose Cathy Compliance is the HR Manager in the Toledo-based U.S. headquarters of a French MNE called Écouter U.S.A. One of Écouter U.S.A’s employees is Jean Bardot, an “inpat” from France; Bardot will be Écouter U.S.A’s Chief Operating Officer. Écouter U.S.A employees have regular interactions with the employees in other countries, especially those at the worldwide headquarters in Paris. The vast majority of these interactions occur through the use of email, due to differences in the time zones. However, some also occur through webconferencing, teleconferencing and videoconferencing. Cathy Compliance considers the foreign-based employees that interact in this way with Écouter U.S.A’s U.S.-based employees “netpats.”
As we are all well aware, the global business climate is currently experiencing several realities:
- Global output is expected to grow only minimally or contract (ranging from an optimistic 1.6% to a -0.4% pessimistic scenario, according to the UN);
- The global financial crisis and recession are likely to undo any employment gains made around the world in recent years;
- While the general labor force experiences a short-term oversupply, there will continue to be fierce competition and a longer term global talent management challenge for companies seeking to fill highly skilled technical, managerial, and leadership positions; and,
- Amid all of these challenges, now more than ever, HR professionals are being asked to do more with less.
The “doing more with less” challenge has resulted in an immediate increase in the netpat phenomenom. MNE’s are reorganizing and trimming staff, and often this means realignment and reduction in mid-level supervision. The fallback? Supervision, direct or indirect, in some instances is provided through a foreign-employee netpat relationship with the U.S.-based employee. The impact? Supervisors less familiar with U.S. employment law (and culture) managing U.S.-based employees, with complaints and lawsuits as a potential result.
In addition, travel budgets are being slashed. In lieu of face to face meetings, MNE’s are holding web-based meetings, or video conferences. As travel is reduced or eliminated, technology-enhanced meeting resources are becoming scarcer. Not everyone can use the expensive video-conferencing equipment at the same time. The fallback? Reliance on telephone or email. The impact? A greater possibility of cultural miscues and missteps, with productivity and compliance issues as a potential result.
Consider the issues Cathy Compliance faces. She and her staff have two types of compliance situations. They have a greater amount of control, or at least influence, with inpats than they do with netpats. They can make sure that the relocation needs of Bardot and his family are assessed, and that assistance is provided to ensure as smooth as possible a transition. Cathy can see to it that Bardot receives cultural sensitivity training that goes beyond knowledge and self-awareness to emphasize competencies of adaptability and an attitude of discovery. She can also ensure that the U.S.-based workforce is prepared for Bardot, with the same types of training. Even though Bardot is an English-speaker, she should be sure that assistance with his language differences (idioms, accents, etc.) is not overlooked. She must provide Bardot with training on U.S. employment law and be sure he understands how the U.S. legal system works.
But what is Cathy to do about the compliance issues she fears will arise with respect to the netpat situation? Short of mandating worldwide training on U.S. employment law and culture (not practical for most MNE’s), there is still much that Cathy can do. Here are some ideas:
- Train the U.S.-based employees on the concepts of cultural adaptability and discovery.
- Assertively capture the key success elements of global culture into the U.S.-based culture.
- Encourage the use of time-zone management such that employees can interact at least via phone if not video-conference as frequently as possible; the greater the level of human interaction with use of multiple “senses” (visual, verbal), the lesser the possibility of cultural missteps.
- Educate global HR and management on the U.S. employment law implications of the actions of foreign-based employees, with an emphasis on the netpat phenomenom; use influence to suggest global training on cultural adaptability/discovery and as-needed on U.S. employment law.
Approximately 4.5 percent of the employees in the U.S. work for an MNE, and, the current global financial situation notwithstanding, the number of MNEs worldwide has been growing by 2,500 a year. The challenges that many of you face are the new reality. Especially in this time of rapid change in U.S. employment law, and a record 15 percent increase in EEOC charges in 2008 from 2007 (expected to rise dramatically again in 2009 due to the economy and growing number of people losing their jobs), now is the time for the U.S.-based HR staffs of foreign-MNE’s to ensure that their organizations are taking all possible steps to avoid compliance issues.