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A little empathy can go a long way


Have you ever experienced incredible delays in your Latin American counterparts? Has it been virtually impossible for you to transmit a sense of urgency? Have threats to fire the worker or close the branch been useless? If any of the answers to these questions is ¨yes¨ this article may help you find ways to solve the problem. Sometimes you have the wrong worker, one that is not committed to the company or a person incapable of performing the task. If this is not the case, you may be fighting for attention against a bigger monster than yourself.


You read right! No matter the real risk the employee faces when he does not deliver, he may be facing worse things. The geographical and/or cultural distance may make it hard for you to identify the possible causes for this low performance.

First of all you may want to decide if you have the right person. This is something we all ideally do up front, before hiring. But, for many reasons, we may end up measuring skills vs. talents when we already have a performance problem. You must identify what set of skills you need and what set of skills your employee can offer. If you have a close match or you think this worker is the best you can expect to find your best choice is to go the extra mile. Try to understand the reasons behind the performance problem and hopefully help the worker get back on track.

What can make a person more worried than the risk of loosing the job? There are some obvious answers that would apply to most cultures: the illness of a close relative, a war (you would know about this one, though), a medical diagnosis that takes too long, etc. If you knew something like this was happening to an employee, showing understanding could go a long way. In Latin America showing interest in personal life is a sign of good manners and care. You can take advantage of this and directly ask: ¨I've noticed a change in your work. Is something bothering you? Are you worried about something so much that it is making it too hard to focus on work? Can I be of any help?¨

This might sound intrusive, out of line and even something people advice against. Remember our services are all about connecting cultures and in order to succeed we all may have to cross our comfort zones. If the answer is a long anguishing story you will have already achieved a lot:

  1. The employee will appreciate you a lot more for caring, in a culture where personal and work spheres are not divided. This will account for better performance in itself;

  2. You may get creative and say one or two comforting things, feel free to do so, that is what is expected. The only caveat here is to be honest. Latin Americans are very sensitive to small talk when covering a painful topic. Or;

  3. You may have understood enough to be able to suggest steps to help your worker. E.g.: if they have a close relative with a terminal illness, you can offer telecommuting a number of days a week in order to have more time to spend with this person; or maybe the health insurance is the problem and with a little help you can include this ill person in the company's coverage or.

These are all things that you may avoid talking about with your employees in your home country but that you should cover with your Latin counterparts.

What other problems could you be facing that you may have not thought about? Your employee may be:

  1. Planning how to flee the country for economic or political reasons;
  2. Concerned because no matter how good the salary is they will not be able to buy what they need with it;
  3. Figuring out how to get the salary money out of the bank to use it;
  4. Choosing the place and timing of the grocery shopping to make sure they manage to get the groceries they need to feed their families;
  5. Planning the operation that starts with getting the money out of the bank and finishes with the money in some sort of secure savings format;
  6. Very angry because the live savings have been confiscated and he/she can not use them anymore;
  7. Worried because the surroundings to the company or their own house are so insecure that they are very scared to go to
  8. Afraid to tell you that wearing a suit to work is dangerous because it implies a certain level of income and makes you a robbery target;
  9. Terrified because health care givers in their area are out of supplies;
  10. In discomfort because public transportation is now less secure and less reliable;
  11. Looking at all this happening in a neighboring country wondering how soon it will be happening in his/her own;

Do any of these possibilities sound ridiculous to you? They have all happened in the region. Some of these problems you can do little about. However, knowing that the employee is not so keen on keeping the job because any of the above considerations, may help you understand the reason beyond the performance change. In other cases you can do a lot: you can decide casual dressing is a valid option in that company branch, you can provide a van transportation service that provides more security to your employees, if it is legal you can pay part of your employee's salary in a stronger currency or even abroad, etc.

The results of this approach are generally impressive for the following reasons:

  1. In Latin America personal relationship at work determines the work quality in most cases, so showing you care is a plus;

  2. If you manage to go beyond caring into taking action you may be able to solve the problem enabling the employee to feel more secure and to be more productive;

Try it out and let us know the results. Good luck!