Unit 3 - Workplace Culture

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Unit Three – Workplace Culture

Workplace culture has been one of the most difficult adjustments I have had to make since moving to Guatemala. Businesses and government offices are rarely computerized and most records, even the most important, tend to be kept on paper. Huge paper ledgers tower to the ceiling of almost every office and finding records or copies of bills can be a time-consuming process. Even in our local Sherwin Williams paint store every transaction is recorded, by hand, in a lined notebook, and a dab of paint is also included. Nothing, it seems, is simple or efficient, and this is an issue that proves to be difficult for new arrivals from North America and Europe.

We foreigners make the mistake of assuming that the whole world is interested in a western view of progress. We value efficiency because, to us, time is money. We are spoiled. There is, in reality, very little waiting in North America. Because there is very little waiting, we do not know what to do with ourselves when we are faced with a delay, problem, or some kind of efficiency breakdown. When people from the super-efficient north try to make a life in Guatemala, they quickly discover that their previously held beliefs about workplace culture will grind to a sudden halt.

It took me a long time to understand that efficiency is not a value in Guatemala. I assumed (although I am embarrassed to admit my arrogance) that people were doing things slowly and inefficiently because they did not know any better. Clearly all they needed was a little bit of help to see how things could be done faster, with less paper. I would explain, and they, with typically Guatemalan charm and grace, would smile, nod politely, and ignore my excellent suggestions. It was very frustrating. However, over the course of a few exasperating years I came to understand things are time-consuming and cumbersome because nobody feels a need to change them. A bureaucratic process that takes a day...
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