Why Does Cultural Awareness Matter in the Workplace?

Updated 9 July 2022

Workplaces can hire a range of individuals from different cultural backgrounds. A person's cultural background can affect how they operate and interact with other team members. Being more culturally aware can help an organisation form a unique culture that benefits from its diverse workforce and also benefits the employees who make up the organisation. In this article, we explore why cultural awareness matters in the workplace, discuss its benefits, detail how to improve it and provide tips for establishing a positive workplace culture.

Related: Guide to Company Culture (With Benefits)

Why does cultural awareness matter in the workplace ?

Cultural awareness in the workplace matters, as it allows team members to better communicate with each other, build better relationships and improve team morale and engagement. By becoming more culturally aware, team members can discover each other's communication style and how their values and opinions influence their behaviour at work. Employees in such a workplace benefit from being authentic, without feeling pressured to hide aspects of their cultural identity.

A culturally aware workplace has many benefits for employees. It can show potential job candidates it values diversity and welcomes people from a variety of backgrounds. When employees are more culturally sensitive, they're more likely to make informed decisions that consider a range of perspectives. When diverse team members involve themselves in decision-making, they can reach new markets or find new audiences for a company's products and services. It can also help these employees develop their leadership skills and prepare for more senior positions in the organisation.

Related: How to Find Companies That Value Diversity and Inclusion

Benefits of increased cultural awareness in the workplace

Below are a few benefits of a culturally aware workplace:

Attracts and retains like-minded people

When a person applies for a role, their skills and experience aren't the only factors that can determine their success in the role. Culturally aware employees can adjust more easily to roles in diverse workplaces. A person applying for a role may want to know what other employees are like and how they interact before deciding to accept a role. This can give them an indication of how well they could fit into the business' existing culture.

Increases job satisfaction and engagement

Team members who feel that other employees respect their culture are more likely to be engaged and satisfied in their roles. When employees know that other team members respect their culture or have taken steps to get to know them, it can help foster healthy workplace relationships. It can also help create a unifying business culture where everyone feels like they're working towards a common goal. This can increase employee productivity and performance and encourage them to put extra effort into their tasks.

Encourages honest and open communication

Social media and widespread internet access means people can easily access information on a workplace and discover how it treats those from different cultures. In a positive company culture, team members can publicly express their feelings on how their workplace treats different cultures without the company censoring them. This encourages employees to communicate their feelings and concerns about work freely and honestly. These sentiments can affect how potential business partners and investors view an organisation.

When a business becomes more culturally aware, its employees can also benefit from the following:

  • improved communication across all levels

  • strong workplace morale to boost their productivity

  • positive working habits, such as offering space for prayer and similar rituals

  • recognising and appreciating various cultural and religious holidays

  • equal opportunities for growth

  • inclusive socialisation that involves everyone

  • better opportunities for junior team members

Related: 14 Reasons Why Teamwork Is Important in the Workplace

How to improve cultural awareness in the workplace

Getting to know what different cultures are present in a workforce can help team members become more sensitive towards them. While there are many ways to identify different cultures, the following methods could be helpful:

1. Get to know other team members

The easiest way to find out about team members and their cultures is to ask them about it in a respectful manner. Employees can ask each other if there are any ways they can better support other team members in expressing their culture or specific aspects of it. Employees can use this opportunity to get to know more about the people they work alongside, so that they can explore cultural similarities and differences. For example, Hindu team members may choose to bring traditional sweets to work to celebrate Diwali and share what it's about with those in their department.

2. Attend sensitivity training

Sensitivity and diversity awareness training can help team members work alongside people who differ from them. They can improve their cultural sensitivity by learning about attitudes and behaviours that others may find offensive or harmful. It can also train them in how to communicate with others and better respect their differences. For example, team members can learn that other team members fast for religious reasons at certain times in a year.

3. Adhere to official workplace guidelines and practices

Official policies can consider team members' cultural differences and create a workplace that encourages employees to acknowledge and respect each other's differences. Examples of this may include covering for a team member when they have a day off work to celebrate a holiday on their religious or cultural calendar. Official policies can also benefit employees by showing them they have rights in the workplace and that they can follow recognised processes if they have a workplace complaint.

4. Share cultural celebrations and events

When team members immerse themselves in different cultures, they can learn more about them and better understand team members from that culture. Offering to help organise and manage these activities, instead of having members of that culture undertake all the work, can show diverse team members that their team members respect and acknowledge them. An example of this is National Aborigines and Islanders Day Observance Committee (NAIDOC) Week celebrations, which celebrate the culture of Australia's Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. All employees can help plan or take part in authentic and respectful activities, while learning more about the culture.

Related: Why Interpersonal Communication Is Important at Work (With Types of Skills)

Tips for establishing a positive workplace culture

Once team members become more aware of each other's cultures and how this influences the business, they can establish a culture where everyone benefits. The following tips can help accomplish this:

  • Stay updated with the latest laws: Staying up-to-date on the latest changes in legislation can keep team members aware of how to approach issues concerning harassment and equal employment opportunities. It can teach employees about how their rights in the workplace are changing and how it impacts them.

  • Encourage a zero tolerance policy: Team members can encourage leaders to implement policies that guarantee certain outcomes if any employee makes offensive remarks or misbehaves to team members of other cultures. This empowers employees knowing that they won't face ongoing harassment.

  • Be aware of workplace procedures: Employees can use any official workplace policies and procedures to find out about their workplace rights and responsibilities, including the business's grounds for termination and compensation practices. By knowing what the business documents and uses to make decisions, employees can better protect themselves in the workplace.

  • Seek diverse job opportunities: A workplace that isn't diverse can benefit from hiring team members from groups that aren't well represented in the business. Members of under-represented cultures can apply to work in industries where they may not typically seek work and create a new culture there.

  • Apply to companies with neutral hiring practices: Some workplaces prevent unconscious hiring biases by using specialised applicant tracking software to remove candidates' personal details when they submit a job application. Applying for roles in companies using this practice can assure potential employees that the workplace evaluates resumes fairly against other candidates and is open to changing its culture.

  • Practice clear communication: Cultural misunderstandings can take place when communication between diverse individuals takes place. Following clear communication practices can prevent language barriers from developing and help employees feel less frustrated because of miscommunication with others.

  • Participate in recognition programs: Acknowledging or recognising a team member's achievements at work can create a workplace where team members feel valued for their contributions and know what they can do to be recognised. This can show team members that other employees recognise their performance and efforts.

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