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Soft Skills: Accepting and Understanding Cultural Differences

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More employees than ever before are working with people from different backgrounds. Today’s generation of employees is working with people of different nationalities, colours, and religious beliefs.

Sometimes, clashes happen based purely on these cultural differences. Arguably, tolerance and understanding of cultural differences are new soft skills for the modern age. It is clearly one that some workplaces lack. There is always room for improvement and Bookboon can help improve workplace cohesion when culture is a clash. 

Let’s have a look at Europe: Europe is much more multicultural now than it was five or six decades ago. The European Union’s free movement of people, the collapse of the Soviet Union and globalisation all contributed. That means the workplace is a melting pot with the potential for cultural clashes. We’re not talking about prejudice, but the unwillingness or inability to appreciate different cultures that should improve the workplace. Accepting cultural differences is one catalyst to social and workplace cohesion. Fortunately, it’s straightforward to impart on your employees.

The type of cultural differences you may experience

There are many types of potential cultural clashes in the workplace:

  • Religious beliefs may dictate employees have flexible working on certain days. For example, observant Muslims are required to go to the mosque on Friday. A Muslim employee may require working a day other than Friday
  • Cultural differences are not always about colour, nationality or religion. It could simply be the difference in work ethic between ages. Millennials have a different work attitude to Baby Boomers that can lead to accusation and recriminations
  • Similarly, there may be a difference of approach in work attitudes between genders, social status and nationality. Some feel there is a large divide in work culture between the USA and Europe in general

This is just a small selection, but they are the most obvious. It’s easy for an attitude of “us and them” to form in the workplace. This, in turn, can stifle communication and productivity.

The value of understanding cultural differences

The key to understanding and accepting cultural differences is flexibility. Flexibility means a willingness to see that others have a different outlook from our own and accepting the differing attitudes. More than that, it means the willingness to find common ground for the greater good of workplace harmony. Once the employee has that basic understanding, intercultural skills and understanding become second nature.

Managers and executive who impart mutual cultural acceptance in their team find a number of critical performance improvements.

  • Workplace harmony improves, as does job satisfaction amongst all employees when differences are seen as cultural variations and not “slacking”
  • There is greater productivity when employees are willing to account for each other’s cultural differences and work around them
  • A more accepting workplace is one that communicates effectively
  • Absenteeism is lower when all employees feel accepted and valued
  • Employee retention is higher amongst the entire workforce when people cooperate

Bookboon’s Solution to improve cultural differences

We have already seen how a lack of team coherence based on poor cultural understanding can affect business’ performance. While there are laws against discrimination, there are no workplace directives to improve cultural differences.

As a senior manager, you can take positive steps to improve the situation in your workplace. Thankfully, Bookboon has a large and comprehensive elibrary. With the help of educational eBooks, your employees can educate themselves about cultural differences in the workplace, whether your clash is between an immigrant and native-born workforce, between age groups or social status. Bookboon’s elibrary covers training in many soft skills vital to the modern workplace.

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