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Top 5 Cultural Issues in Workplace Environments: Identify and Prevent Them

There are many benefits of cultural diversity in the workplace, including increased ability to solve problems, higher productivity, and innovative ideas. But an organization can only enjoy these benefits when culture-related conflicts are identified, eradicated, and prevented.

The first step is to understand the factors that often produce cultural issues in the workplace and then implement strategies to prevent them. Keep in mind, cultural diversity management is a process that needs constant monitoring, evaluation, and regular adjustments.

This article will provide useful information to help you increase cultural awareness in the workplace and go over some of the best practices to foster healthy intercultural relationships between co-workers.

Check out EasyLlama's diversity and inclusion training program. Our courses are written by HR experts, helping you create a more inclusive and respectful workplace culture.

Types Of Cultural Differences In The Workplace

These are some of the most common cultural differences that can cause issues in the workplace.

Religion

Religion is a core cultural characteristic of many people’s identity and it can affect perceptions, intentions as well as work behavior. Different beliefs and ethical principles can cause conflict among co-workers or even lead to religious discrimination. 
Your organization needs to have policies and religious accommodations to ensure everyone is respectful of each others’ beliefs while still providing a fair standard of conduct for customers and clients.

Ethnicity

The term “ethnicity” refers to belonging to a social group who identify with each other based on their shared attributes like common heritage, language, identity, and origin. Common examples of ethnicity include: Hispanic, Irish, Cambodian, or Jewish. Each has its unique behavior patterns, mannerisms, and communication styles.
Depending on their ethnicity, people behave in ways that may seem ordinary or unremarkable for them but can come across as rude, odd, or inappropriate to their co-workers. It’s important to address the issue respectfully and make sure everyone’s boundaries are taken into consideration.

Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity

Workplace issues due to sexual orientation are very common. LGBTQ communities are often subject to harassment, hostility, biased jokes, or inappropriate questionsº that lead to employee disengagement. In fact, many workers hide their identities for fear of discrimination.
Many U.S states have laws in place to protect employees from discrimination based on their sexual orientation. However, organizations should still prioritize implementing additional preventive measures to provide a safe and positive work environment for members of LGBTQ communities.

Education

The educational level is also part of people’s background and affects how they fit into workplace environments. Differences in educational experiences mean different approaches to problems and situations in the workplace. This can cause conflicts among employees working on the same projects but implementing certain methodologies based on their own education.

Generation

Depending on their generation, employees may also have different outlooks, values, and ideas about business and professionalism. For example, older generations tend to have long-term career expectations, making them more loyal to an employer. 
On the other hand, Millennials tend to have a higher value of work-life balance and consistently seek growth opportunities, so they are most likely to move on to another company or higher positions.

What Are Some Cultural Issues In The Workplace? 

Let’s better understand what type of issues may arise within an organization and among co-workers because of their cultural differences. Here are a couple of examples.

Cultural Behavior

Chloe, who recently migrated from Singapore, is starting a new job as a newspaper editor in New York. After a couple of weeks, she notices her co-workers are not approaching her much and she feels like she doesn’t fit in. She decides to bring it up with her manager to see if he has any feedback for her.
Her colleagues think she is not friendly or doesn’t like them because she avoids eye contact when speaking with them. That makes it uncomfortable for everyone else to have a conversation with Chloe. So she does this because direct eye contact can be considered aggressive or rude in Singaporean culture (especially Muslim or Hindu).
Once employees are educated about her culture, they understand her behavior and feel more comfortable with their differences.

Educational Clash

Omar, who recently graduated in marketing, just started a new job at a local agency. He starts working on a new project, along with two other employees who have been part of the agency for a couple of years. 
He quickly finds that his observations and ideas are not being taken into consideration, and when he brings it up with his colleagues, he’s told “that’s just not how we do it here”. He knows that marketing strategies change constantly and he could bring new and fresh ideas to the table, but he keeps on being shut down.
Omar will soon lose motivation and could start looking for other job opportunities where he feels like he can contribute more.

What Should Employers Do To Prevent Cultural Issues?

Preventing cultural issues is a core part of your long-term efforts to create a more welcoming, inclusive, and diverse workplace. Here are 4 strategies to overcome cultural differences at work and help your employees be mindful and respectful of their cultural values. 

Ensure Effective Communication

Good communication is important in every workplace, but when managing multicultural teams, it becomes a priority. Many factors  come into play when trying to communicate effectively; there can be a language barrier or different communication styles.
Ultimately, you want to make sure everyone feels heard, respected, and taken into account. You can start by learning what communication channels or styles work better for your employees. Younger team members might prefer instant messaging programs over email or phone calls, but veteran members may not find them easy to use. As much as possible, try to be flexible about this.
Another aspect to keep in mind is that English is probably not the first language for everyone. You must be conscious of this and avoid using idioms, slang, or acronyms as these don’t translate across every culture. It’s also good to have important messages and visuals such as shelf labels, or temporary instructions translated into languages commonly spoken within the organization. 

Implement Policies and Reporting Procedures

When issues due to cultural differences are left unaddressed, they can quickly escalate to much bigger problems such as harassment and discriminatory practices. As an employer, it is your responsibility to provide all employees with the necessary tools to report and follow up on any incident.
Additionally, you should have a set of anti-harassment/discrimination policies, including a zero-tolerance policy on sexual harassment. Your policies must clearly define the consequences of violating the requirements and apply to all employment levels, from front-line workers to managers.  
Make sure to communicate them to all employees, both in writing and verbally during the onboarding process.

Raise Awareness On Microaggressions

Microaggressions are everyday, subtle, unintentional (and sometimes intentional) behaviors or comments that negatively affect a person or group. Marginalized groups often face microaggressions due to race, gender, religion, or sexual orientation.
Unfortunately, microaggressions can be very hard to identify, as even the person using them may not realize what they are saying is offensive. Comments like “you’re so smart for a woman!” or “you are so articulate” (directed to a colleague of color) may sound like a compliment but are actually suggesting that a person or group is not considered equal.
Whether or not you have become aware of these microaggressions in your company, you should consider implementing training sessions to raise employee awareness. Especially managers and supervisors should understand the concept of microaggressions as well as how to identify and address them.

Develop Cultural Competence

Cultural competence is the ability to interact and communicate effectively with people of different cultures, making this an essential skill when working with culturally diverse teams.
Take the time and put in the effort to educate your employees to create a more positive work environment and increase productivity along with many other benefits of cultural competence. These are some of the best practices to start with.

Sensitivity Training

This form of education focuses on making employees self-aware of their prejudices and developing their sense of empathy towards others. Employees can learn how to be respectful of co-workers by understanding their backgrounds, communication styles, and cultural differences.
To implement sensitivity training, you need to host intensive group sessions where employees of different backgrounds share their opinions about various topics. As a regular practice, these sessions can be used to understand others’ perspectives and ways of dealing with different situations.
If there are specific issues within the team, you can also encourage employees to talk about them during sensitivity training sessions. For example, if two team members are not getting along, the discussion could focus on fixing their differences. 

Diversity and Inclusion Training

Educating your employees on diversity and inclusion is a great way to improve workplace culture and reduce the risks of discrimination or harassment incidents in your organization. The purpose is to teach skills that will improve the way people interact with others who come from different backgrounds. 
During diversity and inclusion training, employees will learn about unconscious bias, communication skills, disabilities, conflict management, and discrimination.  

Cultural Communication and Events

A good way of making everyone aware of others’ traditions is to have different cultural events regularly. You can use the common areas like the cafeteria or lounge area to organize small events showcasing diverse art and culture.
A potluck lunch party is also a good way to get employees interacting with each other's culture. Each person brings in dishes from their culture or heritage and this allows everyone to share a bit about themselves.
Additionally, having an online platform or internal communication tool to promote diversity and inclusion is a great idea. Keep your employees up to date with diversity trends, the latest news worldwide, and general information about different cultures.

Training Solutions For A Better Workplace Culture

If you are managing a culturally diverse workplace and want to foster healthy relationships among employees, the best place to start is education. Here at EasyLlama, we have exactly what you need!
We are the top-compliance online training platform, delivering ongoing training across various topics including sexual harassment, diversity, and inclusion. Our courses meet and exceed all federal and state requirements, so you can be confident your company will be compliant and avoid unnecessary fines.
Using our platform, you will be able to manage different departments, track individual course progress, as well as assign supervisor and non-supervisor content for tailored learning. We focus on real-life scenarios, delivering information in bite-sized, interactive modules to keep your employees engaged.
Get started today and let us do the hard work!