News - October 13, 2011

Employee of the month: Cultural Taboo?


Employee of the month: an organization's positive effort to recognize the outstanding achievements and contributions of an employee. This is a widely known concept and career goal for millions of American employees around the country.

Sometimes employee of the month status can even be tied to financial rewards and bonus schemes. The concept is so familiar to me as an American citizen that without thinking twice, I simply named myself employee of the month in my department at Van Hall Larenstein for bringing in some very special imported American treats such as Reese's peanut butter cups and peanut butter M&Ms. I thought to myself, well this 'outstanding contribution' surely deserves employee of the month status, right? To take it a step further I even announced it on Facebook to make for a good laugh. Suddenly dozens of 'likes' from friends appeared, mostly proud American friends, and then even a few laughs from surprised colleagues. Suddenly it dawned on me that this competitive concept was quite extreme and unfamiliar to my egalitarian Dutch colleagues. Had I just committed some kind of cultural taboo in the work place? Was it even offensive?
The next day I showed up to work like any normal day, but then something strange began to happen. Colleagues kept stopping by my office to shake my hand and congratulate me on employee of the month. Some even asked how they could become employee of the next month! One of my colleagues put up posters announcing my new status all over the building. The Dutch were certainly having more fun with this than I could have imagined. Some people even crossed out 'month' on the posters and replaced it with 'decade' or 'century'. Although culturally sensitive, this little stir in the work place resulted in a lot of laughter, enough to continue the tradition in the coming months.
So through all of this, I'm pleased to say that the Dutch have some humour at work after all and even remain open (and tolerant!) to foreign competitive and hierarchical concepts such as employee of the month.
Kellie Holler, International Relations and Recruitment Officer in the Marketing and Communications Department at Van Hall Larenstein.