Promoting Respect and Understanding in the Modern Workplace

Promoting Respect and Understanding in the Modern Workplace

Promoting Respect and Understanding in the Modern Workplace

The 2021 Census indicated 28.6% of the Australian workforce was born overseas, and 72.4% of the workforce reported having at least one parent born overseas. This means that over three-quarters of the Australian workforce has a multicultural background.

The diversity of languages in the work place highlights the multicultural combination of the Australian workforce. According to the Census, over 300 languages are spoken in Australia, and 22.8% of the population speaks a language other than English at home. The most common languages spoken in the Australian workplace, other than English, are Mandarin Chinese, Hindi, Cantonese, Arabic, and Vietnamese.

The Census also advised 6.5% of the workforce identified as Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander.

What does this mean to you as an employer?

It means you must know the potential your workplace comprises individuals from a myriad of backgrounds, cultures, and life experiences. This diversity, while being a significant asset, also presents challenges requiring proactive management.

There are two key strategies to consider and adopt.  These are the implementation of a zero tolerance policy and the promotion of cultural sensitivity in the workplace. 

Zero Tolerance Policy: A Non-Negotiable Stance

A zero tolerance policy unequivocally states that any form of discrimination, harassment, or bullying, despite its magnitude or perceived intent, will not be tolerated.

One issue with policies is they hide in drawers or somewhere on the company’s web pages.  You must ensure employees are aware of the policy and the penalties if breached. 

It must be given to new employees.  You must stress the importance of the policy to the employee.

There is an ongoing need to communicate the policy to all employees.

If you have a newsletter, then use it to provide information regularly. Seek examples from other organisations and highlight them in the newsletter.

Some companies use posters in common areas (lunchrooms) to promote the policy. 

Enforcement: The real test of a policy is in its enforcement.

The policy is useless if it is not enforced.  You must act on any reported breach.  This may be an initial investigation followed by (if required) counselling or disciplinary action. You must record all instances and make sure the employee is aware of potential implications of ongoing improper conduct.  

Consider how employees can report incidents. Some companies have anonymous “whistle-blower” programs to allow confidential reporting. Some have identified people within the company employees can confidentially approach to raise concerns.

Do not tolerate the response of “I was only joking”.  This is a cop-out and should be rejected.  I repeat-make sure you record all instances and the actions you take to address the issues. 

Depending on the size of the organization, it may be appropriate (while maintaining individual privacy) to inform employees (by newsletter or other means) on any incidents reported and their resolutions, ensuring the workforce knows the policy is actively enforced. 

Cultural Sensitivity Training: Building Bridges of Understanding

The purpose of the training is to enlighten employees about the rich tapestry of cultures, traditions, and practices that coexist in the world, fostering an environment of mutual respect and understanding.

It may be appropriate to engage an external facilitator to conduct the training. S/he can address common stereotypes. For example, “All Asians are good at math” or “Women aren’t suited for leadership roles.” Through interactive discussions, these stereotypes can be rejected, thus highlighting the dangers of generalization.

There are also gestures to consider.  An example is the “thumbs up” gesture may be offensive to people from Afghanistan, Iran, parts of Italy, and Greece. It means “up yours.” So, while an Australian may think it indicates “OK” people from other cultures may wrongly interpret it. 

Another idea to consider is role-playing or storytelling, where an employee talks about their country or culture, providing insights to the nuances and significance of various aspects of their culture, thus fostering empathy and understanding.

There are benefits in engaging in these activities. It can reduce biases by opening people to other cultures.  It will let people reflect on and understand work ethics and communication styles. 

The greatest challenge is maintaining a regular program to ensure an ongoing appreciation of potential issues in the workplace. Consider regular meetings or gatherings.  These need not be formal meetings or tool box briefings.  Consider a lunch where people provide food based on their background. This is an informal approach highlighting cultural differences. 

In conclusion: promoting respect and understanding in the workplace is not a mere HR checkbox. It is an ongoing commitment to creating an environment where every individual, despite their background, feels valued, understood, and respected. It is about recognizing that in the rich tapestry of diverse threads, each thread has its unique value. By weaving them together with understanding and respect, businesses can create a masterpiece of collaboration, innovation, and success. Practical steps, backed by real-world examples, not only provide a roadmap for organizations but also highlight the real benefits of such initiatives.

If you want any help or further information on these issues, then contact me at [email protected] 

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