Managing cultural sensitivity in the workplace this festive season

The month of December is generally filled with a sense of excitement with not only anticipation for the end of year, but also around the various religious holidays within the period.

According to Dr. Erika Wassenaar, Group Manager: Learning and Development at Business Partners Limited, although Christmas Day is a public holiday in South Africa, it is important to guard against assuming that all staff celebrate this day as a religious holiday.

Wassenaar says that business owners need to manage religious holidays appropriately, given that in most workplaces, there is a combination of Christian, Jewish, Muslim and other religious and non-religious people working together in the same environment.

“Although there are various religious days in December, other than Christmas, some staff do not celebrate religious holidays at all. All of the various possibilities should be taken into consideration by business owners, as focusing corporate year-end events on a specific religion, i.e. Christmas, may result in people who don’t practice that particular religion feeling like outsiders, which can prevent true diversity within the workplace.”

She adds that business owners need to also ensure that all their employees’ unique cultural beliefs are equally represented and celebrated during the holiday season.

Advances in communication technology, such as the internet and cellular phones, have made the marketplace a more global concept. “In order for a business to survive, business owners need to be able to manage and utilise their diverse workplace effectively.

“Diversity in the workplace means bringing together people of different ethnic backgrounds, religions and age groups into a cohesive and productive unit.”

She adds that it is important for a business owner to be aware of and deal respectfully with each diverse group, culture, age group and religion in the workplace. “For example, business owners should determine which employees represent the four generations: Silent Generation or Traditionalists, who are employees born 1945 and earlier, Baby Boomers, born 1946 to 1964, Generation X, born 1965 to 1980; and Generation Y or Millennials, born 1981 and later.

“Each generation will have a different view about work values, life balance, religion, education and so on.”

Wassenaar says that managing diversity involves using the resources and experiences available for the benefit of the organisation. “A successful business owner can build a culture of tolerance and acceptance of religious views through education, training and conflict management strategies. Leading by example is the best way to show you respect and value each staff member in their own unique and diverse way and will ensure that the workplace is enriched by its diversity,” concludes Wassenaar.