27 NATIONS ON A FACTORY FLOOR

Issues? Yes. Strenghts? Oh yes!

In today’s globalized world, a culturally and ethnically diverse
workforce is becoming the norm rather than the exception. At GN
Tobacco, a leading global manufacturer of smokeless tobacco
products and nicotine pouches, people from 27 different nations
are working together in a high-tech factory environment. And
here, it takes diversity to the max.

 

Some of the employees working at GN Tobacco in Enköping, Sweden, are
handpicked recruits from faraway countries, others have escaped war and
hardship and just needed a job. Now they work together on the process of
manufacturing, packaging, and distributing snus, tobacco pouches that
you put under your lip, and white snus, usually called nicotine pouches.

 

So, what is it like working in this extremely diverse environment? Is it all
sugar, spice and puppy dog tails or does the mixed cultures and languages
make it difficult to cooperate? We asked the Head of HR, Mikael Romu,
himself a child of immigrants from Finland, about his experiences.

 

“My career before joining GN Tobacco has been more or less all
international, with many years in Indonesia, China, America and other
countries. So, I am used to working in international organizations with a
diverse workforce. But the difference at GN Tobacco is that instead of
working with people all over the world, here people from all over the world
is working in one factory,” says Mikael Romu.

Diversity as reality, not “buzz”

Diversity has become a buzz word and often companies seem to use it just
to make themselves look good. But at GN Tobacco, this is the everyday
reality. So how do you see the strengths and weaknesses in this
environment?

 

“For me, being passionate about people and how to create the best
possible working environments, working with these questions here is an
exciting adventure. Of course, mixing all these languages and cultures,
and pouring it into a well-oiled highly technological machinery like our
factory is guaranteed to create some issues.”

 

Misunderstanding each other due to language difficulties is of course one
of the main issues. Instructions in a foreign language can be difficult to
understand, especially when those instructions are delivered by someone
who isn’t fluent. One of the concepts Mikael has been working with is|
arranging training at the factory. But the language is only the first and
most apparent challenge. Another, potentially more difficult one, is culture.

 

“People’s values and ideas of right and wrong, including on how to behave
 in social situations, can be very different between countries, cultures,
religions and other aspects. In some cultures, family comes above any
other loyalties. In some cultures, elders must be treated with a lot of
respect – even when they are wrong – and in others, women and men don’t
speak to each other unless they have been properly introduced.
According to Mikael, many employees come straight out of very different
societies and cultures than the Swedish one and learn a new culture
can often take longer than learning a language. At the same time, it is also
about what we can learn and benefit from others.

 

What we all bring to the party

Among the positive effects of an extremely diversified environment is the
breadth of perspectives it brings. Employees from different cultural
backgrounds can contribute a variety of ideas and insights, leading to
increased creativity and innovation.

 

Another, perhaps not as obvious strength, is how people from all over the
world and with different backgrounds bring with them an understanding of
their countries and cultures. Since GN Tobacco develops, manufactures, and
distributes products in over 80 countries, getting help to understand
those markets are very beneficial.

Typical issues that HR professionals discuss in this field can be communication
barriers, integration difficulties, and resistance to change|
from the existing – and sometimes more homogenous – workforce. Usually,
there would only be one way around the language issues – language training.
But at GN Tobacco in Enköping, there is a completely different solution as well;
language-grouped shifts.

 

“As the factory has different parts, and works three or two shifts per day, the
s
taff is divided into many different teams. Some of these teams speak Arabic
and since the founder of the company is Armenian and has worked with many
of his countrymen when building this business, we also have teams speaking
Armenian or Russian. That solves the issues temporarily, but we are striving |
to help people learn Swedish so they can have a career wherever they want
here in their new home country.”

 

So, to summarize the messages from Mikael; “The key to success with all this
diversity is to not lose the benefits of being diverse while also streamlining
everyone to work in the same way and agree on the same behavior based
on sharing the same values.
Working together like that, we are pretty much unstoppable,” says Mikael Romu.

By Robert