Due to globalization, economic changes, and the ever-growing population, organizational behavior tends to reflect the culture and diversity present in society. Unless you work alone or with an isolated demographic of people, it’s quite likely that you will encounter someone who has a different background and culture than you in the workplace. This can be a co-worker, business associate, or client. In any case, it carries the potential that it will play a role in the organizational behavior of your business.
The presentation and establishment of culture in the workplace is not always in control of the management or the employees, as workplace culture tends to develop based on the factors present. In that regard, there is more value on directing existing culture in the workplace to foster a positive impact than there is in creating the desired culture from scratch. The cultural traits of a business’ staff members, customers, location, and the economy, amongst other factors, are going to impact the cultural atmosphere of the business whether management wants it to or not. Typically, management has control over the culture of the workplace through policies and documents like the company mission statement. These paradigms present as the roots of the business’ office culture and shift the way the staff works together and individually in their tasks. Likewise, the and organizational structure of the business is going to set the business’ culture as well since there is a division of power throughout its hierarchical setup. The cultural backgrounds of those who carry power is going to impact their decision making for the business, which can shift its cultural dynamics any which way.
Culture in organizational behavior tends to apply to two different areas: the culture of the staff, and the culture of the workplace. One does influence the other and both can be forces of change and momentum for the business. For many years, culture did not hold the same value in the workplace that it does today. Experts who were researching organizational behavior in the 1980s began to notice that the culture backgrounds of the employees often impacted the culture of their work environment with successful outcomes, so long as the two were nourished and kept healthy.2 They stressed the importance of culture in organizational behavior, claiming that its influence could prove wildly successful for businesses and companies that apply the concepts correctly. Since then, many businesses have taken this advice to heart and work to create a professional culture within their working environment that is as beneficial as possible to productivity and employees.
The Impact of Diversity
Diversity is a word that gets tossed around in society without any real explanation as to what it is and what it can do for an environment. In short, diversity is defined as the different traits and backgrounds of the people present in a group.4 This can apply to age, gender, educational background, religion, language and culture, political beliefs, socioeconomic status, and orientation. The diversity of a business’ staff members will often depend on the business’ location, size, and industry.
Managing diversity is going to be dependent on any of those factors, which means that businesses need to be able to handle things on a case by case basis. There are significant benefits and challenges to diversity in the workplace, and management needs to be trained properly in order to handle either. When properly addressed, diversity does present some advantages for businesses:
- Learning: Diversity in any situation is a chance for others to learn about people who are different from themselves. In business, this can aid in the growth of individual employees and for the business as a whole by exposing them to new ideas and perspectives. Interactions between co-workers of different backgrounds can help reduce prejudice and make it easier for them to work together.
- Experience and Knowledge: The experiences a person has often are impacted by their background and cultural traits, which allows each employee to bring a unique set of skills and strengths into the business. Teams that have members with different skill sets tend to be able to combine their strengths to offset any weaknesses that prevent them from being efficient. Together, this can boost their productivity and make them adaptable to changes.
- International Skills: With globalization become an integral part of business, it’s more important than ever for companies to be able to interact in the global market.The diversity in a business may include employees who speak other languages and can work on customers and business partners directly. Diversity can also help when a company has multiple branches throughout the world, as the traits of an employee’s cultural background can help them navigate in those locations.
- Reputation: Since the diversity of the workforce is increasing, job seekers want to know that the businesses they are looking to work with can effectively handle issues of diversity. Employers who have a reputation for being fair to workers from all walks of life and having no tolerance for discrimination are far more appealing than employers who do not. It should be noted that those are also traits that other companies look for when the want to collaborate with another business, both locally and abroad.
Unfortunately, there can be some disadvantages for businesses when it comes to diversity:
- Discrimination: Despite the business’ best efforts, instances of discrimination can still occur with diversity. They are often based in prejudices, stereotyping, and misinformation and can have serious consequences for both those involved and the company itself.8 It is the business’ responsibility to establish what the policies are in regards to discrimination and to ensure that they follow any and all anti-discrimination laws.
- Poor Interaction: It is not unheard of for workers of different backgrounds to clash culturally. A lack of understanding or misconceptions about a particular demographic can generate a ton of issues between the affected employees and their interactions. It damages communication and brings productivity and group cohesiveness down. In serious cases, it can create a hostile environment that damages the workplace culture and the business’ organizational behavior regardless of if it’s isolated to a few people.
Authority and Training: While it’s a good that business take the initiate in training their staff on diversity, it can be problematic if mishandled. There may be some resistance to diversity from staffers and they may see training as forcing them to accept unnecessary (to them) changes. This may result in backlash and a breakdown in the relationship between staff and management. There’s also no guarantee that those in places of authority will follow through on what they learned in training-strong-held beliefs and prejudices can be difficult to break through. As a result, diversity issues like discrimination can be left unresolved or worsened by someone with authority abusing their power.
Encouraging Culture and Diversity in the Workplace
Culture and diversity is not something that simple springs up overnight. Yes you can have a new employee who has a different cultural background than the rest of the office, but as mentioned it’s still a gradual development. Even then, there’s no guarantee that it will have any impact on the business if that bit of diversity that the person brings isn’t encouraged. As with other aspects of organizational behavior, culture and diversity cannot play a role in a business if they’re not actively participating.
Encouraging culture and diversity amongst the staff often falls to those in management, via their policies and leadership. If you want to encourage diversity in your business amongst your employees, then they need to know that in the first place as well as what, if any, restrictions or limitations are in place per company policies. Making that information available through an accessible source like the employee handbook or through the company’s human resources department is a good idea. You also can do some of the following:
- Practicing Inclusion: Inclusion involves looking at individual needs and trying to make sure that those needs are met, supported, and respected.10 This often means that businesses need to make sure that they are offering the right resources for their staffers, taking into account their backgrounds and capabilities. It allows for employees to know that they are welcomed at work regardless of whatever differences they may have from their peers. Practicing inclusion tends to put everyone on a level playing field, which can prevent delays in production or inhibit group cohesion. Businesses that practice inclusion tend to need to look at what they currently offer for their employees and figure out what can be improved. This may mean that policies have to be updated or that new resources need to be made available. The business will should also consider reevaluating themselves regularly to ensure that they are continuing to meet the needs of their employees and customers.
- Education: People may be unfamiliar with the culture of their peers at work and some questions may be raised. As the diversity of a workplace increases, this may happen and it may become an issue if there are misunderstandings. Opening up the pathways for education about other cultures can be a great way to encourage cultural expression and diversity. Doing so can ease some of the tension for those trying to avoid cultural faux pas, satisfy some curiosity, and improve intrapersonal relations and teamwork. There is also the possibility that the business’ clients will also have a diverse background as well, with the same concerns applying during interactions. This can help avoid any negative or harmful interactions that can reflect poorly on the business. There should also be some means of educating staff on what policies there are should a harmful or negative interaction relating to an aspect of someone’s culture occur. Such information, for example, should be made available via the employee handbook.
- Communication: Regardless of its purpose or what it is being applied to, communication is a necessary component for any kind of organization to function. In the matter of culture and diversity, it’s key for any kind of knowledge and understanding to spread throughout the staff members. Diversity is a major component of today’s society, so it’s not uncommon for a business to have staff and customers that come from a variety of different backgrounds. People may be hesitant to express their culture even when they make adjustments for a work environment, or there may be concerns that there may be a clash of cultural ideals with co-workers of different backgrounds. To encourage culture and diversity in the workplace means that the staff needs to communicate with each other about what’s going on. Create a dialogue that will encourage discussion and education between employees of different cultures. Be open with what the rules are in regards to cultural expression and what avenues can be taken if there are cases of clashing cultures or discrimination.