3 Common mistakes companies make in understanding assimilation in the workplace

As companies continue to introduce policies to increase organizational effectiveness, understanding how assimilation in the workplace can help or hinder an employee’s success is crucial.

assimilation in the workplace

Understanding assimilation in the workplace can help or hinder employees’ success

Assimilation in the workplace generally refers to the process by which employees are familiarized with a company’s protocols, methods, operations, job-specific duties, as well as company-specific terminology if applicable, to name a few. Assimilation programs begin with employee onboarding and orientation and continue to evolve over time.

The value of being unique while practicing assimilation in the workplace

Given the need to increase innovation and solve problems in a global market with diverse customers, more and more companies are hiring employees from different sectors, ages, ethnicities, geographies, cultures, and backgrounds – perhaps part of the reason you were more attractive to the organization you are now a part of. The company may have been looking to add the very characteristics and attributes you embody – to their overall organization. As a person with unique strengths, you present a great opportunity to increase understanding and effectiveness when serving customers from the sectors you have experience in.

assimilation in the workplace

The value of being unique

Adapting consciously to assimilation protocols

Cultivating a company culture helps the organization move at a certain and desired speed, with a system and a language that allow employees to communicate and operate mutually. Some adjustments new hires may need to adopt can include anything from a uniform style of dress (mainly in the service sector, and common in the corporate sector) to the way in which they engage with customers or clients. Protocols for how ideas are presented, along with particular leadership styles may also be in place. In this type of assimilation, employees who have been properly introduced to the company’s culture consciously adapt to the environment they want to be successful in.

Assimilation, however, needs to be balanced and reasonable. The optimal level of assimilation in the workplace produces the maximum level of authenticity and personal comfort – after all you are happiest when you are yourself. Organizations and employees benefit from having a culture everyone can embrace and which presents each person the tools to navigate within the company to get things done. 

  1. “Daddy, why are you acting like that?”

When employees feel they are living some kind of a double life, one at work and one at home, then the assimilation may have gone too far. If an African American team member brings his young child to work and the child witnesses his father acting differently than he does at home, the child, in a confused state may ask, “Daddy, why are you acting like that?”

When a relative can no longer recognize the person he or she knows well, because that person feels the pressure to be someone different in the workplace, then it means the employee has passed the optimal level of assimilation. This continuous going back and forth from one type of behavior to another takes a lot of energy and could even diminish the employee’s true identity.

The admiration minority leaders enjoy within their organizations and from the communities they serve is part and parcel because they identify with the people they serve. There is value in relating to a leader who is genuine and representative of a particular group.

If a Latino is promoted to the top of an organization but his or her assimilation level is so high that he or she does not really exhibit any of the characteristics that are common to Latinos, then that leader may be effective for a mainstream audience but potentially ineffective with other Latino employees, customers, or suppliers, especially if they no longer perceive him or her as authentic.

  1. Companies whose employees look different but act and think the same

    assimilation in the workplace

    They look different but act the same.

Organizations that feel proud of all the skin colors visible in their offices or included in a company recruiting brochure, yet conversely when addressing solutions to a problem, that same diverse pool of talent thinks similarly and the ideas are generally safe, common, or easily agreed to by everyone, then the employees may have gone too far in their assimilation. The outcome may not be as valuable, nor the solutions as innovative as expected. Nor may the final decisions be equitable for all communities.

  1. Diverse employees and leaders that don’t bring their whole selves to work

A good source of happiness comes from being authentic and honoring your true self.

Some ethnic executive leaders may lose admiration and respect from members of their own community when they show excessive assimilation that disconnects them from their roots.

If a woman believes that to be successful in an organization, she needs to assimilate by acting more like a man, then the unique advantages she brings to the company can’t be leveraged. If she finds herself being coached to replicate the particular style of her male peers, mentors, bosses, leaders, customers, and vendors, and the message is clearly to behave less like a woman and more like a man, the daily toll on her will be enormous. Eventually she may leave to join another company who values her fully. 

Achieve an optimal level of assimilation in the workplace

When talent is hired from outside the traditional core population, employers need to be reasonable regarding the amount and speed of assimilation expected of their new hire, or they run the risk of losing the very authenticity they seek. So keep in mind to:

  • Make conscious adjustments and changes that allow you to be more effective.
  • Do not compromise your personal values in the process.
  • Stay connected to your true self.

The purpose of cultivating a company culture via assimilation programs is to offer you the best environment in which to succeed, and not to squelch your personal individuality. Cultivate strong relationships with your peers, build trust with your supervisors, keep your career goals firmly in focus, and take advantage of all the growth opportunities offered you. If you feel added pressure to behave radically different, reach out to a certified career coach for advice and counsel. In today’s business environment, companies would rather not lose their best and brightest.

Luis Moreno

About Luis Moreno

Luis Moreno is VP of Marketing for Synchrony Financial and is the co-founder of The Twin Cities Business Peer Network, a 1,700-member organization that helps students and peers grow personally and professionally. He was awarded NSHMBA MSP’s “Member of the Year” and has been named “Top National Champion of Diversity” by DiversityBusiness Magazine and “Top 100 Under 50 Executives and Emerging Leaders” by Diversity MBA Magazine. Luis holds an MBA from the Carlson School of Management, is a Public Policy Fellow at the Humphrey School of Public Affairs, and is a member of the Young American Leaders Program at Harvard Business School.
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