How do we adapt to another culture and what are the consequences at work?

Changing countries, for whatever reason, usually means changing to a new culture. Immigrants then face the difficulty of reconciling the heritage of their original culture with the need to conform to the host culture. This process of adaptation is called “acculturation”. This difficulty has an impact on the quality of life of migrants, but also on the way they are received by the host majority (discrimination, etc.).

In this context, workplace plays an important role, because it is a significant driver of socialisation. Thus, companies have an impact on the acculturation of hired immigrants. They also have a vested interest in ensuring that everything goes well!

Indeed, the good adaptation of its employees will, for example, help to avoid conflicts, inhibit discrimination and even improve performance and innovation, thanks to the diversity they bring with them. But before we get there, we need to talk about acculturation.

4 acculturation strategies — Berry’s matrix

Since the 70s [1], the sociopsychologist John W. Berry has contributed to a better understanding of how immigrant populations adapt to their host culture. He has proposed that each concerned person is torn by two questions: Should I preserve my cultural heritage? Should I exchange with the majority culture?

Depending on the answers to these questions, it is possible to construct a matrix. It allows us to identify four main acculturation strategies [2].

Berry’s matrix of accultation

Assimilation. This strategy occurs when we prefer to fully adopt the majority culture, leaving behind our original culture. The majority generally encourages minorities to adopt this orientation [3].

Separation. Conversely, when we seek to preserve our heritage and, in order to do so, to avoid the influence of the majority culture as much as possible, we adopt the strategy of separation. This one can be adopted at once by the minority or as a reaction to a majority’s policy of segregation [2].

Integration. Seeking to retain our cultural heritage and to become involved in the dominant culture is associated with the integration strategy. It is usually linked to the ideology of multiculturalism [2] and is valued by minorities as a compromise between their two identities [4].

Marginalisation. This strategy is adopted when neither heritage maintenance nor involvement in the host society is relevant. This is usually the consequence of an incentive to abandon one’s original culture, while at the same time the society remains resistant to inclusion [2].

Of course, these strategies should not be seen in a totally compartmentalised way. The two dimensions that form the matrix are continuums. For example, a person may adopt a strategy between inclusion and separation. A person may also adopt different strategies depending on the context [5]: for example, assimilation at work and separation in private relationship.

Workplace constraints

Workplace is specific because it implies a need for performance and profit. For its smooth running, the company need its members to move together and in the same direction. This presupposes that they all adhere to its organisational culture and therefore to encourage assimilation.

On this topic, a Spanish study on African immigrants [5] showed that they adopt a strategy of assimilation at work, whereas they tend to prefer separation or integration into other aspects of their lives (social and family relations, religion, etc.).

However, encouraging assimilation is not an ideal choice. First of all, by pretending not to see the specificities of the immigrant employees, the company can create a feeling of exclusion for these people [6] (see our previous article on the limits of colourblind). This is detrimental to their quality of life at work, but also to their commitment.

Secondly, by restricting its employees in the sharing of their points of view, the company obstructs the richness brought by diversity. Indeed, by mixing information from a variety of backgrounds, diversity can enhance the company’s performance and innovation [7;8], as well as its financial benefits [9].


Work is an important factor in the adaptation of immigrants. Companies play a role in the acculturation process and they need to pay attention to it. Through their actions, they can support these minorities, but also benefit from the richness of the diversity they bring with them.

For example, to make it easier for new members to get used to their working environment, the company can support them in learning about its organisational culture. At the same time, if it allows and encourages to express themselves freely, it can be enriched by their differences.


1. Berry, J. W. (1974). Psychological aspects of cultural pluralism. Topics in Culture Learning, 2, 17–22.

2. Berry, J. W. (2005). Acculturation: Living successfully in two cultures. International journal of intercultural relations, 29(6), 697–712.

3. Ryan, C. S., Hunt, J. S., Weible, J. A., Peterson, C. R., & Casas, J. F. (2007). Multicultural and colorblind ideology, stereotypes, and ethnocentrism among Black and White Americans. Group Processes and Intergroup Relations, 10(4), 617–637. doi : 10.1177/1368430207084105

4. Kamiejski, R., Guimond, S., De Oliveira, P., Er-rafiy, A. & Brauer, M. (2012). Le modèle républicain d’intégration : implications pour la psychologie des relations entre groupes. L’Année psychologique, vol. 112(1), 49–83. doi: 10.4074/S0003503312001030

5. Luque, M. N., Fernández, M. D. C. G., & Tejada, A. J. R. (2006). Acculturation strategies and attitudes of African immigrants in the south of Spain: Between reality and hope. Cross-Cultural Research, 40(4), 331–351. doi: 10.1177/1069397105283405

6. Markus, H. R., Steele, C. M., & Steele, D. M. (2000). Colorblindness as a barrier to inclusion: Assimilation and non-immigrant minorities. Daedalus, 129, 233–259

7. Saxena, A. (2014). ScienceDirect Workforce Diversity: A Key to Improve Productivity. Procedia Economics and Finance, 11(14), 76–85. doi: 10.1016/S2212–5671(14)00178–6

8. Parrotta, P., Pozzoli, D., & Pytlikova, M. (2014). The Nexus between Labor Diversity and Firm ’ s Innovation. Journal of Population Economics, 27(6972), 303–364. doi : 10.1007/s00148–013–0491–7

9. Salloum, C., Jabbour, G., & Mercier-Suissa, C. (2019). Democracy across Gender Diversity and Ethnicity of Middle Eastern SMEs: How Does Performance Differ? Journal of Small Business Management, 57(1), 255–267. doi: 10.1111/jsbm.12336

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French PhD in social psychology ● Writing about inclusion, diversity and discriminations, in the light of social sciences.