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Understanding Culture Is Key To Motivating Mexican Workers

By Expert Author: Alan Russell

Companies that are manufacturing in Mexico under the maquiladora program, usually do so in coordination with facilities that are domiciled in the U.S. It is critical for the newcomer to Mexico, however, to take into account that there are significant and palpable differences that exist between operating a manufacturing facility in Mexico, and a counterpart factory in the United States.

Straight business considerations that are divergent include different wage rate and benefit structures, varying logistics and transportation challenges and opportunities, as well as other issues that may be characterized by a lack of uniformity in things such as taxes, legally mandated employer obligations, and health and safety rules and regulations. The most important difference to be addressed, however, to ensure that things run smoothly at company operations in both places has to do with managing and motivating Mexican workers, as well as those laboring in the U.S. Looking at both workforces through the same cultural filter will undoubtedly result in failure. This brief text examines three issues that differentiate the manufacturing workplace in Mexico from that in the United States.

While the U.S. worker sometimes puts career achievement and advancement on par or, in some instances, above familial considerations and obligations, in Mexico family is traditionally the uncontested and absolute first priority. The company that understands and acts on a knowledge of this difference will be successful in motivating Mexican workers, as well as in accomplishing its organizational goals and objectives.

Because the Mexican workforce is demographically younger than that found in the United States, experienced companies and their management consciously work to promote a “family” environment in the workplace itself, as well as to demonstrate a recognition of and respect for the nuclear family of each individual employee. In addition to sponsoring company sports teams, and promoting a range of other group activities that enable workers to interact with each other outside of the scope of their normal work routines to support the building of a familial espirit de corps, successful and respected managers in Mexico also plan and promote events and holidays that honor the individual Mexican family unit. Celebrations in the workplace of Fathers’ Day, Mothers’ Day and “Dia del Niño,” or “Childrens’ Day, for instance, are the norm. While in the U.S. year end parties are increasingly called “holiday parties,” Christmas is still the reason for celebration in Mexico, being that upwards of ninety percent of Mexicans identify themselves as Roman Catholics.

Family picnics and similar activities are also organized and enjoyed, and go a long way to achieving the end of motivating Mexican workers. A company that does not acknowledge and respect the centrally important role that the family plays in the overall well-being of its workers in Mexico does so at its own peril.

The second difference between workers in the two countries that is of significant import concerns the ability to separate work issues from those that are personal. While workers in Anglo-America have somewhat of a capacity to draw a line between business and interpersonal relations and relationships, the boundary between the two are not as clearly demarcated in the Mexican workplace. U.S. workers are often educated, trained and actively encouraged to voice “constructive” criticism in an organizational setting, while, on the other hand, Mexican staff members may be reticent to express differences of opinion, and may not want to share them in an open forum due to a cultural distaste for real and/or percieved confrontation. Understanding this difference between the two cultures is another key to motivating Mexican workers to perform to the best of their group and individual capabilities.

For purposes of this brief text, the last significant difference that companies with operations in both the United States and Mexico should be fully aware of is related to what has historically been the traditional style of management in Mexico. Not only does this notion affect how workers conduct themselves, but also determines what they expect in terms of behavior and guidance from those who supervise and direct them on a daily basis. Although as Mexico’s economy and educational infrastructure become more fully globalized a visible shift in culture in this realm is occurring, the Mexican worker is typically more accustomed to and tolerant of a somewhat more autocratic, top down form of leadership than that which is expected and accepted by laborers in the U.S. Authority in the workplace in Mexico has been mainly concentrated in the upper echelons of the organization. As a result, in order to succeed in motivating Mexican workers, and to get desired results in a manufacturing environment, it may be necessary to be more pro-active and “hands-on” in the direction of employees. At first, U.S. managers of a Mexican labor force may find this to be alien and somewhat frustrating. Conversely, a more laissez-faire approach exhibited by those in charge may elicit similar responses from those that occupy the other side of the workplace coin. As workers and managers get to know each other, however, each will become increasingly more familiar with and more able to adapt to the others’ supervisory and work styles.

There have been many works written on the differences in work and management styles and cultures in Mexico and the United States. Management in Two Cultures by Canadian author, Eva Kras is one of the best texts written on this topic. Although the book was first published in 1995, much of what is written on its pages is as applicable today as it was then.



K. Alan Russell, President and C.E.O. of the Tecma Group of Companies. Manufacturing in Mexico, nearshore manufacturing, Mexico industry

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