Managing different cultures in the workplace: Do’s and Don’ts

Wednesday May 22, 2024

The World Day for Cultural Diversity for Dialogue and Development was celebrated on the 21st May. It is a day marked by UNESCO recognising both the richness of the world’s cultures and the benefits of intercultural development.

In our interconnected world, most workplaces will employ a multicultural workforce now or at some point. They can be a richer, more successful place for it.

While culture is not mentioned specifically as a protected characteristic in equality legislation, it is closely aligned to other characteristics like race and religion; so it would, in many cases, be illegal to discriminate based upon it. As with other forms of diversity such as sex, embracing cultural diversity will open up a broader talent pool to your business, ensuring you get the best performers in each role.

Once you have got a multicultural workplace though, how do you ensure it thrives; minimising any flashpoints and making everyone feel welcome and valued? Here is a collection of Do’s and Don’ts to give you a steer from HR.

 

Don’t… rely on assumptions and stereotypes

Although people of different cultures will be used to doing certain things differently, don’t assume that this is the way they want to be treated in your workforce by default. Some people may want to integrate more than others, so check in with them early on with a 121 to calibrate both your expectations, instead of relying on stereotypes.

 

Do… recognise that different cultures come with different communication styles

Again, be careful of stereotyping, but be understanding that many cultures have different preferences on communication styles; it may just be how people have been brought up. From a straight-talking, even blunt Aussie, to a more indirect Brazilian. As with introverts and extroverts, treat everyone fairly but understand that you may get a better response by adjusting your style to suit each audience.

 

Do… cater to different cultures at workplace events

From a Summer BBQ to a Christmas party, it is important to invite everyone and make them feel welcome. This includes catering to their cultural needs, whether that be not drinking alcohol or specific dietary requirements.

 

Don’t… forget alternative cultural celebrations

While Christmas and Easter are baked into our calendars and come with Bank Holidays to mark them, there are plenty of other cultural festivals that may be relevant to members of your workforce. Diwali, the Hindu festival of lights; Ramadan fasting for Muslims; and Orthodox dates for some Christians to name but three. Be sensitive to multicultural needs around such times, whether it be the taking of annual leave or some accommodations for fasters who may be feeling weak or tired.

 

Do… be open to requests

Not every request from a multicultural workforce will be practical for your business, but to foster goodwill, do consider them where possible. Could a vacant meeting room have occasional use as a quiet prayer or meditation space? May someone avoid shifts on a day of the week with religious significance to them?

 

Do… look for opportunities for celebration

All successful teams need to find opportunity to bond. What fun to invite someone from a different culture to suggest something from their background! Whether it be a restaurant off the beaten track or a crafting workshop it could be just what the team needs to bring everyone together. Look out for other opportunities to bring different cultures together, too. What about a sweepstake for medals in the Olympic Games this summer?

 

Don’t… allow a space for conflict

Just as it is wise not to let a workplace become overly political, so too should there be no space for opinions which amplify a cultural divide. Ensure you have robust discipline and grievance policies, and that everyone understands the rules.

 

Further help

From recruitment to workplace culture, line management to disciplinary hearings, our HR experts can help with any aspect of employing a multicultural workforce – and we will have a team local to you. So if you have a need, please get in touch.

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