Four workplace lessons from moving to Israel - opinion

Here are four lessons I’ve learned about communication in the workplace by moving to what many consider the “Silicon Valley of the Middle East.”

 A man works in his office (illustrative) (photo credit: PEXELS)
A man works in his office (illustrative)
(photo credit: PEXELS)

It was 2015 and I felt paralyzed. I knew exactly what my life was going to look like 30 years from then – the city I’d live in, the type of job I’d have and so on.

There has to be more to life, I thought. I had no major responsibilities but myself. I needed to take a risk before I regretted it and ended up stuck in my Manhattan loop forever. I decided to uproot my life and move to Tel Aviv.

Here are four lessons I’ve learned about communication in the workplace by moving to what many consider the “Silicon Valley of the Middle East.”

The definition of ‘professionalism’ differs by culture

In the US, it’s considered taboo to discuss politics, religion, rent and minute details of your personal life in the office. Not in Israel. In fact, it’s welcomed and I’d say even expected. What I defined as “politically incorrect office chat” in America is, in reality, the day-to-day work culture here. This idea takes some adjusting to. It requires you to understand what personal life details and opinions you’re comfortable with sharing openly.

Based on this experience, I’d say the ability to break past PC or surface-level work chat enables you to build stronger work relationships that translate to personal ones outside the office (but more on that later). And as far as titles go, they’re not as much of a “thing” here. At every Israeli company I’ve worked at, the CEO, C-suite and management team are all available and approachable, and they eat lunch with everyone else.

 ONE OF THE hi-tech centers in Herzliya Pituah. (credit: NATI SHOCHAT/FLASH 90) ONE OF THE hi-tech centers in Herzliya Pituah. (credit: NATI SHOCHAT/FLASH 90)

Now that I’ve mentioned lunch...

Lunch is sacred

In the States, I was used to grabbing lunch with co-workers and eating at our desks as we worked. In fact, the agency I worked at didn’t even have a common dining area big enough to seat everyone. 

Lunch is a prime opportunity for team members to bond and talk about topics that go beyond work. And in Israel, speaking about work-related topics while noshing at noon is, many times, unacceptable. 

Your co-workers want to know what is happening in your life outside of office hours rather than chat about updates to the Monday board. And while I still am not used to eating lunch in a group setting every day – which my team members tease me about – I really value this approach to a group meal. It’s crucial to culture and should be adopted, and maybe even mandated stateside for those days spent in the office.

The personal is the professional

This relates to my points above. In Israel, especially in the hi-tech scene in Tel Aviv, many times your co-workers will become your friends outside the office. Speaking for myself, my best friends have come from my jobs – but not at first.

As someone who worked in corporate America for years prior to moving here, speaking about my personal life at the office didn’t come naturally. And empty statements like “Great to see you, too, let’s grab coffee sometime!” didn’t help.

Whereas that’s considered polite in the States, if you say something here, it’s important to mean it. If you join a social work culture, be prepared for those around you wanting to get to know you on a deeper, more personal level. If you aren’t open to that, you likely won’t get far in Israel.

Based on experience, I can say that these deeper relationships make work more fun. From coffee to after-work drinks to work events, I actually want to hang with my co-workers. This dynamic can increase work satisfaction, company culture and employee retention.

You can cry at work

Perhaps this is controversial to say, but I firmly believe it’s okay to cry at work. As someone who used to not feel this way (again, that corporate-America thing), I think showing emotion when you need to is acceptable. We’re all humans who experience ups and downs in our personal lives during work hours. As such, sometimes tears are shed in the office. There’s nothing wrong with that.

Risks pay off

Regardless of what prompts you to make a big life change, communication will be a key factor in how it works out. While uprooting your life and moving to a country where you virtually know no one is more emotional than rational, it’s a great way to dive into a new culture and learn how others connect and build meaningful, cross-cultural relationships that add more zest to your life.

For US business leaders in the States, you can apply the aforementioned to your companies, especially if your team members are young. Create communal dining spaces if room permits. Promote after-hours events. Fund employees across departments going to have coffee with one another. Ask questions about co-workers’ personal lives and develop a deeper interest in what happens in their off hours – from hobbies to family. Doing so can pay off in the long run with a more satisfied, connected company culture.

Lauren Gumport is the vice president of communications and brand at Faye Travel Insurance.