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Work Culture

 

It doesn't take long for an Oleh Hadash, a new immigrant, to notice that Israelis have unique cultural traits.

When this happens during a visit to Israel, or on vacation, it might be interesting and raise one’s curiosity.

But when adaptation to these traits is a crucial prerequisite to finding a job and performing well in it – it becomes necessary to understand the Israeli workplace and its characteristics.

In this article, you will find the answers to the following questions:

How do these characteristics manifest themselves in the Israeli workplace and work environment?

Are there any recommendations for effective adjustment and integration to these traits?

What are the main Israeli cultural traits?

Direct communication:

Israelis typically say what is on their minds, and expect people to communicate this way too.

They might therefore be perceived as assertive and frank, or alternatively, as aggressive, arrogant or rude.

Initiative:

In their actions and decision-making, Israelis typically value taking initiative over awaiting direction.

They might therefore be perceived as results-oriented, or alternatively, as reckless or hasty.

Improvisation:

Israelis typically value quick action to resolve problems, and tend to choose improvisation over careful planning and process orientation.

They might therefore be perceived as quick to act and very flexible, or alternatively, as disorganized and chaotic.

Flexible time:

Israelis typically have a more flexible view of time, which results in a decreased use of time-tables and agendas, as well as inaccurate starting and ending times for meetings.

They might therefore be perceived as easy-going and relaxed, or alternatively inefficient and inaccurate.

Group orientation:

Israelis are moderately group-oriented, which means that relationships between members of a team will be an important feature of work.

They might therefore be perceived as cohesive and people-oriented, or alternatively as closed and political.

Perception of equal-status:

Israelis interact very openly across organizational hierarchies, and do not attribute significance to various types of authority in the company.

They might therefore be perceived as egalitarian and open, or alternatively, as disrespectful and disobedient.

How do these traits manifest themselves in the Israeli workplace and work-environment?

Every work environment and workplace is affected by the national culture of the people working in it.

Thus, individuals who are used to a certain European or North-American work environment might be surprised at some of the values, norms and practices that they will encounter in Israel.

Here are some points for consideration:

1. The Job Interview

Interviews have certain similarities the world over; and some unique components depending on the cultural context in which they take place. Here are some characteristics of the Israeli interview:

Can be structured, semi-structured or unstructured – depending on the personality of your interviewer.

Will probably be a little less formal than what you are used to if you are North American or European (both in terms of style and dress).

The Israeli interviewer might ask you questions that seem bold and/or insensitive or even discuss topics that you feel are not acceptable in interviews elsewhere: where you were born, how old you are, why did you made Aliyah, whether you are planning on having kids soon, and so on.

While this may seem inappropriate to you, please note that it is common in Israel; many Israelis even indicate their date of birth and marital status on their CVs.

There is not one way to deal with such a sensitive situation, and every interview situation is complicated enough even without this issue. The best advice is: if you do not feel comfortable answering a question, simply say so.

Given the Israeli tendency towards direct communication, it’s best to be direct too. A young women, interviewed by her potential boss was asked what she would do if he didn’t give her enough feedback. Her answer was: “I’ll call you up and scream at you until you do”. She was hired.

Note that being direct does not mean that you can be aggressive, rude or arrogant. Just give straight answers.

You might be asked to take several personality/aptitude tests, or go through an assessment center at a company which specializes in recruitment and selection. If you are concerned that your level of Hebrew is not good enough to take part in these procedures, be upfront about it and consult with your interviewer.

Recommendations from Israelis who know you will be highly valued (this fits in with the Israeli group-orientation, noted above).

2. Introductions

In many cultures, you are expected to say your first and last name during an introduction (in some, it is even customary to say the last name – first). Also, introductions in the work environment will be typically accompanied by a handshake.

In Israel, the handshake is also common, except in the relatively rare cases of Ultra-Orthodox, who might not shake hands across genders (men with women, and vice-versa). In most environments, saying one’s first name is the norm, and the last name is not as often said in the introduction.

Recommendations:

If a person’s full name is important for you to know, offer your business card, and in most cases you’ll be given one back.

When introducing yourself, you may use your first and last name if it is more comfortable for you.

3. Work hours

Israelis work longer hours than most of their counterparts overseas. If you are French and are used to a 35-hour work week, you might be in for quite a surprise. Even if you work longer hours than that, you may be puzzled to see your colleagues in Israel working what you consider to be extreme amounts of hours.

New immigrants from English-speaking countries might also be surprised, but not to the same extent.

Recommendations:

This is one aspect of Israeli culture which will require some adjustment from you. You shouldn’t give in completely, but know that some flexibility will be required from you.

Longer hours are partly seen in Israel as an expression of commitment. If you demonstrate that you are committed enough to the company and to your team by other means, you might be able to ‘get away’ with slightly shorter work hours.

Remember that your culture and language skills may land you jobs that involve working with international customers during unconventional hours. If you are willing to try this out, the benefits may often include working from home, and specializing in a field in which you will surely have a competitive advantage over most native Israeli job-seekers.

4. Meetings

Israeli meetings might not regularly start or end on time. If you come from Spain or Italy, you might be used to this; however if you are a new immigrant from Switzerland, Germany or North America – you might find this irritating.

Another time-related issue in Israeli meetings is the typical lack of agenda. In some cultures, an agenda might be circulated before the meeting, and it will be closely followed as the meeting progresses. In most Israeli work environments this will not be the case, and if you an immigrant, you might find this meeting structure excessively loose and unstructured.

Recommendations:

If you are a principal participant in a meeting, you have more latitude: feel free to circulate an agenda. You will also be able to apply some pressure on people to commit to the scheduled content and length.
If you are not a principal participant in the meeting, it is still suggested to arrive on time. Bring your laptop or some documents that you need to work on so that you can use the time effectively in the case that the meeting begins late.

5. Conference calls

When several Israeli participants are on a call, it is more likely that the conversation will be very lively, and people will interrupt each other in mid-sentence (a feature of Israeli face-to-face conversations as well).

Typically, individuals from English speaking countries, as well as Central- and North-European cultures, are taken aback by this. Sometimes, they might feel as if the Israeli participants on the conference call do not let them speak, or do not value their ideas because they constantly interrupt.

Recommendations:

If you have something important to add to the conversation, be sure to say it – even if it seems rude to interrupt someone who is talking. Sometimes, your boss – or another senior executive in your company – will be the one who is talking, but still the expectation is that you’ll say what needs to be said.

Remember: all of the above is indeed the cultural expectation; it is equally important not to overdo it, and to apologize politely when you go ahead and… interrupt.

Written for the israemploy by Cultural Trainer and Consultant Aylon Slater aylons@aylonslater.com

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