Culture in the Workplace

Culture can be defined in many ways. Simply put, culture consists of a set of beliefs and rules that make up our normal. Culture is the common denominator that defines us within a group, be it a family, a neighbourhood, a community, an organization or a country.

Our own culture is usually invisible to us. The only times we become aware of the existence of culture is when we encounter another one that is different from our own. While there is no such thing as right culture and wrong culture, ours usually feels right (a sense of normal), whereas other cultures usually feel wrong (a sense of abnormal).

When people immigrate to Canada, they bring their own cultures, which feel normal to them, into the Canadian workplace environment that often feels abnormal to them. This sense of strangeness works both ways and might create conflict and an impression that the internationally trained worker (ITW) doesn’t fit in.

The good news – Culture-driven behaviours are learned behaviours. We are all capable of learning to function within a new culture in the same way we learn to speak a new language.

How to facilitate cultural integration of ITWs

The best way to facilitatre cultural facilitation of ITWs in the workplace is to use the following approach:

  1. Identify the issue - When certain behaviors do not make sense to you or seem unacceptable, do not make assumptions or jump to conclusions about the person’s personality or professionalism. Try discussing the situation with your ITW to better understand their perceptions, perspectives, motives and interpretations. To help you better understand the source of some of the culturally different behaviours, you may explore the document Culture in the Workplace <link to our pdf>
  2. Reflect - Try to examine your own behavior or communication style; be open to the idea that it often takes two sides to create communication difficulties. For example, you may ask yourself:
  • Did I use clear and simple language?
  • Did I provide clear and sufficient instructions?
  • Did i communicate my expectations in a simple and clear manner?
  • Did i create a supportive atmosphere to allow ITWs to address questions and concerns with me?
  • Did I make myself available to address questions and concerns?
  1. Discuss cultural differences with your ITWs. Whenever possible, bring the ITW’s attention to the cultural differences, and the implications of these differences in the workplace. Provide examples of culturally appropriate behaviours that would ensure their success in the workplace. To help you better frame your feedback, you may use the document 

    Culture in the Workplace <link to our pdf>

  2. Discuss cultural differences with staff and team members. Bring their attention to the need to differentiate between cultural norms that drive certain behaviours and culture-based judgments and misinterpretations. Encourage them to support the cultural transition of their immigrant colleagues.

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