The Challenges of Managing a Diverse Workforce
Multicultural workforces are becoming commonplace in many businesses today. Though such diversity is positive in many ways, it can also create problems. Differences in culture and language may create tension among employees, discomfort among minority groups or strained relations between employees and supervisors. Take a proactive approach to address these unique issues, so you can maintain a positive working environment for all and reap the many benefits that diversity has to offer.
Get to Know Your Employees
In order to ensure your workplace is a welcoming environment for all employees, you need to keep an open mind, learn about your employees and avoid generalizing.
- Understand that diversity exists. When gathering information about the ethnic and cultural makeup of their organization, many employers are surprised to learn the number of identifiable culture groups and subgroups within their company. Each of these groups may gather and process information differently and may have different needs and expectations.
- Learn about different employee groups. Research the various cultures and ethnicities represented in your company to gain a better understanding about each group. Keep in mind that gender can constitute a minority group depending on the makeup of your workforce. Though research is a start, the best source of information is the employees themselves; ask them about their values, preferred communication methods and how your workplace could better meet their needs.
- Don’t generalize. While it is true that certain characteristics or preferences can be common among a gender, ethnic or racial group, you should never assume that all employees of one group feel the same. It is important to learn about broad cultural differences, but always think of employees as individuals with unique feelings and needs.
Communicating with Employees
Employers often make mistakes when communicating with bilingual employees without realizing it. You may assume that since your workers have an English vocabulary sufficient for them to function on a daily basis that communicating everything in English is adequate. However, for many workers for whom English is a second language, they may still feel more comfortable and confident communicating in their native tongue. This is especially true when it comes to safety rules, company policies, benefits, HR forms and other essential or potentially confusing information.
One way to solve this problem is to use bilingual forms of communication (whether written or spoken). Also, be sure to display federal and state compliance posters in the language in which your employees are fluent. In fact, this is a requirement in some states, so check your regulations.
Promote Acceptance among Employees
Just as important as the relationship between your company and its employees is the relationship employees have with each other. When companies shift from a mostly homogeneous workforce to a more diverse one, some employees struggle with the change. This may be due to underlying prejudices, discomfort or unfamiliarity, or displeasure with changing policies and procedures. In order for everyone to have a comfortable and pleasant working environment, you need to address these issues.
Create companywide nondiscriminatory policies and distribute them to all employees. Emphasize that the company is committed to a diverse, inclusive workforce and prejudiced or discriminatory behavior will not be tolerated. You may also want to implement mentoring or shadowing programs to help new employees feel welcome.
Consider providing diversity training or learning seminars to open employees’ minds to other cultures, races, gender, sexual orientation, beliefs, etc. and raise their awareness. Open or semi-directed dialogues among employees can also be useful for breaking down barriers, fostering respect and understanding, and helping employees feel comfortable despite their differences. Planning company social events, including picnics, outings, parties and clubs, can also facilitate bringing employees together as they provide laid-back opportunities to get to know each other.
Train Managers & Supervisors
Managers and supervisors should be trained on communicating effectively with workers of all backgrounds, race, gender, sexual orientation, belief, etc. Not only do managers play an important role in verbally communicating information, but their non-verbal actions can also have a big impact.
Managers and supervisors should be careful to always display the same attitude toward all employees. Any difference in mood or attitude, whether real or perceived, can make a minority group feel isolated or unimportant and expose the company to unnecessary risks. It is crucial that managers avoid becoming irritated or impatient when a minority employee needs extra help or is confused by something. This type of response can cause non-English speaking employees to avoid asking safety questions out of fear of further agitating an impatient or already aggravated supervisor. Plus, the company becomes vulnerable to a discrimination lawsuit if the employee feels he/she is being treated differently because of minority status.
For managers and supervisors, it is best to follow these tips:
- Treat all employees equally.
- Don’t make patronizing comments about a specific group of employees, even if you think they are complimentary. Not only will you risk insulting your employees, but you also open the door to discrimination lawsuits.
- Don't overcompensate any specific group of employees with the belief that the extra money will alleviate communication barriers. This will ultimately alienate other members of the workforce, and it is a very discriminatory practice.
- Be patient with workers who may have a hard time understanding the English language or who struggle to adapt to certain communication methods or working styles.
If your organization has a diverse workforce, you might consider hiring managers with multicultural management expertise and recruiting employees who have had exposure to multicultural work settings.
If you’ve already noticed cultural conflict within your organization, you might want to consider hiring a culture-change consultant. These consultants focus on solving multicultural management problems. The most successful ones have programs that extend over a period of weeks or months to guide management in understanding the diversity in today’s workforce. While some of these programs can be expensive, the long-term rewards will be well worth the cost. Remember to check references, and try to attend a few seminars to determine which consultant’s approach will best fit your company.
Keep These Tips in Mind
While there are many resources available that can help employers develop, promote and value a diverse workforce, it really all comes down to four simple actions. By encouraging the following, you will be well on your way to creating a more welcoming environment for all employees:
- Work to understand all your employees and their unique needs so the workplace is comfortable and accessible for everyone.
- Promote open and honest communication between employers and employees.
- Encourage acceptance and respect among all employees.
- Establish a commitment from top management to promote and support diversity and equal opportunity as a core value of the organization.
If you have any questions, contact a member of our insurance and risk management team.
This material is for informational purposes only. Before taking any action that could have legal or other important consequences, speak with a qualified professional who can provide guidance that considers your own unique circumstances.