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Understanding Cultural Differences in The Workplace

Posted by Kira Fonteneau | Mar 10, 2020 | 0 Comments

Understanding cultural differences in the workplace. The typical modern workplace comprises employees from diverse cultural backgrounds and belief systems, which are distinct from those of a majority of their colleagues as well as the top management in many cases. 

To be able to fully engage employees at work and build good relationships, leaders must understand the cultural beliefs and values of employees from diverse backgrounds.

Improving Awareness of the Cultural Context

Culture can simply be described as a “way of life” for people belonging to a particular group that has come together due to factors such as ethnicity, race, age, gender, or religion. Workplace diversity also depends on other elements in the workplace, such as education, disability, or work styles.

In general, employees are quite sensitive to any missteps relating to their cultural belief system. Experiencing challenges at work is something no one looks forward to. Still, the aftermath of a cultural blunder will be felt much longer and deeper compared to other mistakes that routinely occur in the everyday operations of any enterprise.

Understanding cultural differences in the workplace.

An understanding of the cultural contrasts as well as how culture affects behavior can enable managers to show respect towards employees and allow them to perform better on the job. Some cultural differences and how to handle them in an effective manner are as follows:

Ethnicity

Examples of cultural contrasts in the workplace often include ethnicity or country of origin, especially in cases where the language, manner of conducting business, and communication style are different. In professional organizations and large companies, affinity groups have increased in popularity. These types of groups help address cultural differences and create productive relationships in the workplace.

Differences due to Generational Characteristics

Cultural contrasts at the workplace can also be attributed to the generational difference between employees. In a diverse workplace, some employees are considered Millennials, Generation X, baby boomers, and traditionalists. There are distinct characteristics that each generation displays. For instance, baby boomers at the workplace have a tendency to attach their personal identity to the type of work that they do or their profession.

Also, baby boomers are thought to be committed but willing to switch employers for career growth and advancement. On the other hand, Millennials place more value on professional development. However, they are technologically savvy, used to cultural contrasts, and appreciative of flexible working conditions.

Understanding Educational Differences

There exist differences between employees who believe academic qualifications enable success at the workplace and those who have progressed in their careers through on-the-job and vocational training. These kinds of differences may become a source of conflict at the workplace when there is a clash on theory vs. practice in accomplishing organizational objectives.

An employee who considers that, say, a college degree gave him/her the skills necessary for managing the methods and techniques of employees engaged in skill trades may not be as knowledgeable as he/she believes in comparison to employees with numerous years of hands-on experience and knowledge.

Effect of an Employee's Background

The current or previous place of residence of an employee can contribute to cultural contrasts at the workplace. Many people would be in agreement that cultural differences exist between employees from a smaller town and an employee from a large urban center.

For instance, NY is known for its fast pace of life and frenzied business operations. On the other hand, an employee from a small town in the South may not approach her on-the-job duties with the same fervor as someone hired by the same organization from a large metropolis where there is a sense of haste attached to each workplace task.

Acceptance of Cultural Contrasts

You may be a supervisor with a direct approach, and you may not easily display your emotions. You may have a team member who perhaps communicates in an indirect manner and often shows their feelings.

Changing their character may not be the solution or even possible. However, take into account their reaction (on the basis of your understanding of their personality and cultural background) if, for instance, you need to offer negative feedback on their work.

Clear, Concise Communication

While it sounds clichéd, communication is vital in general, and especially at the workplace. In cases of friction between team members, it's a crucial concept to have open and honest communication in a one-on-one discussion. If there is acrimony within the group, discussing with the group or talking directly to concerned individuals might be beneficial. Not in a rude manner, but in an open and friendly way.

It is crucial to create a safe environment where employees can honestly express their concerns as well as their motivations for specific actions. Show employees that you appreciate questions and curiosity. This can enable employees from an indirect culture to subtly be encouraged to communicate more openly in a more direct culture-orientated workplace.

Consult a Dependable Workplace Discrimination Attorney

It is vital to consult a skilled workplace discrimination lawyer as soon as possible if you are a victim of discrimination in the workplace. Attorney Kira Fonteneau has extensive experience handling cases related to employment discrimination and can help you navigate the complex legal system effectively. Call (404) 383-5720 today for a no-charge consultation with our skilled and knowledgeable employment discrimination attorney.

About the Author

Kira Fonteneau

Partner and Managing Attorney of the Alabama Trial Practice Group at Barrett & Farahany Kira Fonteneau is a partner and the managing attorney of the Alabama trial group of Barrett & Farahany. Kira chose to specialize in employment law because she wanted to help employees take back power. ...

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