There are certain times when the concept of cultural awareness might be especially important and salient at work. Cultural awareness and tolerance can significantly improve relationship between the employees and make the healthier work environment. As a result, this will lead to happier employee which is also a more productive employee.
For example, according to Crestline, a company that offers promotional products and corporate gifts, the end of the year is a time for reflection and celebration, no matter which holidays employees celebrate.
Outside of the bigger and more obvious events where cultural awareness and sensitivity are important, it’s something that should be part of the workplace all the time.
Cultural awareness in the workplace is a reference to the ability of everyone, including individuals, teams, and the entire organization, to recognize and appreciate cultural differences. When people who share a workplace can do that, they are going to be more successful at interacting with everyone.
The National Center for Cultural Competence defines cultural awareness in one of two ways. First, they say cultural awareness is understanding, observing, and also recognizing the similarities and differences between cultures.
The second component of the definition is learning to see how someone’s behavior is affected by their culture. To be a competitive business, you need to have employees who respect, value, and understand different cultures because of how diverse the business environment is.
When you’re culturally aware, you can work toward the cultivation of a more productive, inclusive environment where everyone works as a team. Cultural awareness can also help you adjust the way to interact with people.
When talking about culture, it’s made up of many characteristics and knowledge about a group of people. Culture goes beyond race and includes location, religion, music, values, language, and family history, among many other factors. All of these factors are what impact how you act, speak and react toward other people. We tend to see culture as something that’s solely based on race when that’s not the reality at all.
With all of these things in mind, the following are tips to have a more culturally aware workplace.
1. Create Awareness Policies and Guidelines
You want to formalize your efforts here. That can mean outlining and creating policies and guidelines around diversity. This will help show that you prioritize cultural awareness. You can set rules for what you view as being acceptable and unacceptable at work in terms of ethics.
You can create a sense of clarity around how you expect employees from different backgrounds should interact with one another.
This will be based somewhat on discrimination laws and regulations, but there’s more to it than that, and you can go more in-depth than those laws.
2. Prioritize Communication
A lot of the conflicts that come up in the workplace are because by miscommunication leading to misunderstanding. People from different cultural backgrounds often have different styles of both verbal and nonverbal communication that can contribute to misunderstandings. For example, in some cultures, direct eye contact is seen as rude, and in other places, it’s something that conveys honesty.
Verbal communication styles vary depending on someone’s culture. Being direct about something can be seen as disrespectful for some cultures, and in others, it’s a sign of authority and efficiency.
If you’re going to be communicating with people in a work environment from a different cultural background or a different part of the world, take some time to research their norms. You want to have more understanding and context for how they might communicate and how cues can differ from the ones you offer.
You also have to think about whether you’re going to be communicating with someone who’s not a native English speaker. In this case, consider how you can communicate as clearly as possible. You might use shorter sentences, and you should avoid colloquialism and humor because these are easily misconstrued when there are language and communication differences.
3. Celebrate Traditional Holidays and Food
When the winter holidays come around, for example, it’s easy for people in the workplace who don’t celebrate Christmas to feel excluded. Christmas is the traditional holiday that so many people in the U.S. and many parts of the world celebrate, but the last thing you want is to make people feel left out.
Try to include different traditional celebrations in the workplace when possible.
You want to celebrate the cultural differences that make everyone unique.
You might even encourage employees to bring a traditional dish from their culture, and you can have a staff lunch or dinner.
It’s good for employees to be able to talk openly about their culture and why they do the things they do, and what they celebrate and value. When people feel like they can share what’s important to them within their culture and celebrate with coworkers, it creates a safe environment.
4. Ensure Your Mission Statement is Inclusive
Along with your mission statement, your company probably has a fair amount of documentation about what you’re all about and your values. You want to review that to make sure it’s inclusive and reflects a sense of cultural awareness and sensitivity.
As you review this documentation, consider the cultural backgrounds of your team. Are you representing them in your mission statement and values?
5. Get Feedback
You may not know where to start as far as improving cultural awareness in the workplace, so go straight to the source. Gather feedback from your employees. You want to learn what culture is to them, what they value about their own culture, and what barriers they might feel exist in the workplace to being more aware of others.
Collect data through surveys or other simple forms of communication so that you have a baseline to create a more inclusive environment valuing differences in culture.
The more you learn about your employees, the more you can work on finding common ground.
6. Observe and Listen
Finally, be a leader who learns about other people by observing and listening as well as directly asking. You can encourage your employers to do the same. Often in the work environment, because it is competitive, we’re all clamoring to be heard, but we’re not sitting back and just listening to what other people are saying, which can be the best way to foster awareness.