How do you envisage the office of the future? Maybe people from all over the world using fancy technology to connect and teamwork while still in their bedrooms? Or maybe a workplace brimming with colourful individuals, each with their unique mix of life experiences?
Whatever your idea is, staff diversity would undoubtedly be present one way or another. A multicultural office brings in tons of benefits but doesn’t come without issues.
And a good company culture makes employers stand out.
But it’s difficult making everyone feel included. Although we are used to thinking of staff as a workforce, they are not one single entity with lots of hands and brains – they are individuals and they each carry the marks of their own culture and beliefs.
Think back about the last Equality Data questionnaire you read or filled out. The questions there no doubt were about age, gender, sexual orientation, race, nationality and religion – the building blocks of one’s culture and the stick in the wheel of teamworking.
What is culture?
According to Oxford Dictionary culture is ‘the ideas, customs, and social behaviour of a particular people or society’ and in addition to that – ‘the attitudes and behaviour characteristic of a particular social group’.
The latter is particularly important as an employee’s culture is not only devised of how they have grown up and what is written in their passport, but also what they actively believe in as part of any social group they actively belong to.
A multicultural office in today’s world is not only divided by differences of country of origin but also by gender, sexual preferences, age, religion.
If this post had to be two words long, it would go like this: ‘Be understanding.’ This is all you have to do to achieve a good working environment when opposite styles of working and living clash.
How to be understanding in practice
Here are five ways you can demonstrate understanding of cultures in the workplace.
1. Make sure your employees feel valued and included in the business strategy
It has been proven that engaged staff are more productive. To engage them, include their thoughts and processes in the long-term strategy of the business. Consult them on matters which concern the whole company to promote loyalty.
A culturally diverse team will produce a range of different ideas and actively listening to those, despite who they come from, is a way to foster a sense of belonging.
2. Get to know the individual behind the employee
People rarely act without reason. If someone wants their holiday at a specific time no matter what despite work commitments, put yourself in their shoes and don’t feel they don’t value working for you.
Maybe it’s Ramadan, maybe it’s Pride Week or maybe it’s their child’s birthday. Acknowledging staff have life outside work that is important to them will make the office a safe space for them, where they don’t have to hide their personal life
The disclosure of sexual orientation at work, for example, and the following understanding from co-workers, leads to a higher job satisfaction in both men and women.
3. Stay fair in feedback and growth opportunities
Don’t give someone an easier or a harder time because they are different.
Inconsistencies like this will not go unnoticed and whether it is because of conscious or unconscious bias, do you your best to shake any preconceived notions about what an employee should look like.
Staff are becoming increasingly aware of issues of bias and many will speak up about it. Which is actually good thing – research shows that confronting prejudice leads to positive outcomes like confidence and respect between the parties involved.
Delegating work can be a great motivator if done right. It makes employees feel useful and valued and if administered fairly, erases all thoughts of cultural bias.
4. Create a safe working environment
People who feel safe are happy people. Feeling hostility in any shape or form from managers and co-workers causes immense amount of stress and lowers the standard of any employee’s work.
Some managers do argue that humiliation leads to increased productivity and less mistakes – so why bother with fostering a feeling of safety for staff?
The answer is simple – positive feelings lead to stability, while fear and shame, though they might boost output temporarily, come with damaging long-term effects.
5. Acknowledge there will always be something more to do
If you want to reap the benefits of diversity, you have to be ready to deal with the side effects. People normally work in teams, and as diverse a team is, as many potential problems can come up.
Estimate the effort it will take for you to get to know someone’s culture and make them feel valued – it will probably be nothing compared to how grateful they will be.
Chances are you have all resources available, you just need to get creative – someone’s cigarette break could be another’s praying or breastfeeding time.
Managing a multicultural workplace is a task that is never complete. The limit is your motivation and imagination. If you are stuck for ideas, you can take a look at our blog post suggesting three ways to promote cultural diversity in the workplace.
About the author
Polina is a freelance writer and multimedia journalist, with a personal interest in psychology and HR management. You can learn more about her and read more of her work by visiting her website here.