A French employee at a restaurant in Canada filed a complaint with British Columbia’s Human Rights Tribunal against his former employer.

He claimed the dismissal was due to his French culture being perceived as ‘rude and aggressive’.

What can we do to embrace and use cultural variety to our advantage? And do so whilst minimising cultural clashes and misunderstanding in the workplace? Of course, bad or unacceptable behaviour must not be excused as part of someone’s culture. It’s a fine balance but there is much that employers can do!

Hiring to fail?

Looking at another restaurant closer to home, let’s consider our much loved Fawlty Towers. Manuel’s eager efforts to communicate to customers were unsuccessful, much to the amusement of the audience.

However, the joke here is not necessarily Manuel’s bad English skills. It’s more that any employer would want to allow their employee in a customer facing role without the appropriate training, or ensuring that they can communicate effectively. You don’t want to set your employees up to fail by hiring them for a job that doesn’t suit. Or by not providing the necessary training and support.

Tips for managing cultural differences in the workplace

But how, as an employer, can you train your employees to embrace cultural differences to enhance the team and your customers’ experiences?

Firstly, have your own company values and cultures. These should include expectations around behaviour styles, customer service and team engagement. That way you have a shared culture whereby individual cultural differences could add value. But equally, it is very clear how your business expects your employees to behave.

Now, you can’t change someone’s cultural identity but you can ask for certain standards of conduct to be met. Embracing differences could even boost your business performance. Un-diverse workplaces can harbour group-think and struggle to diversify their customer base.

It is important to be sensitive to differences in habits, traditions and values. A willingness to expand your cultural awareness and focusing on the unique strengths of your employees can be beneficial for your business. It can bring in new ideas and allow new avenues to be explored.

Having a team who speak many languages may help you secure that all important overseas client. And having a diverse team who are comfortable with different languages and backgrounds can really help with understanding your diverse customer base. Being culturally diverse can give you the competitive edge!

Make sure you stand up to discrimination and try to foster a culture of understanding in the workplace. Lazy stereotypes about people’s culture could end up in a tribunal! Celebrating and being aware of different cultural or religious days can really help to promote diversity in the workplace.

Need help with managing cultural diversity at work?

Having said all this, there really is no place for rudeness in the workplace, whether it is deemed part of a culture or not!

This blog was submitted to Seaham Business Park by Alison Schreiber, who runs The HR Dept Durham and Darlington. Alison works with a number of businesses across East Durham, offering HR advice and guidance to businesses and individuals. For more info, visit HR Dept Durham and Darlington or call Alison on 01325 526036 or 07535 853226.