The Multicultural Workplace


The fact that the modern community freely travels all over the world means that multi-ethnic environments are deployed daily, creating more room for the advent of multicultural teams. The existence of cultural differences is one of the essential aspects of modern businesses that the administration has to be aware of to establish positive workplace relations among employees. On the other hand, a multicultural environment has to be approached correctly to improve leadership, job performance, and employee motivation.

The fact that individuals can travel the world or live in a foreign country does not ensure a comprehensive understanding of the differences among cultures that could significantly affect the workplace. Ethnic dissimilarities are hard to recognise, which makes it even more important for the administration to consider diversity when managing the company.

Compared to the second half of the 20th century, the community became more aware of the significant cultural differences, and how those affect the workplace. The increased occurrence of traveling also contributed to the advent of a growing number of culture-induced conflicts between employees. In most cases, workers do not even realise that culture is the source of their conflict unless an external party (a manager, for instance) reaches out to them with an explanation.

One of the most important ideas related to cultural diversity in the workplace is that people cannot be stereotyped based on their social background, as the same beliefs could give rise to additional individual differences that were not as visible as their much more evident counterparts. The current essay intends to prove that power distance, time management, communication styles and universalism have to be considered if the administration expects to adapt employees to different scenarios and improve their performance.

Power Distance

Compatibility between leaders’ and their teams’ power distance affects teams’ job attitude and performance. The concept of power distance closely relates to employee attitudes towards the unequal distribution of power within a company. In high-power distant cultures, such as many of the Eastern countries, subordinates are dependent on the decisions of managers (Cole, Carter and Zhang, 2016). Employees expect directors to make significant decisions and resolve any issues that arise during the workflow.

In low-power distant environments, on the other hand, power distribution is more even, and subordinates may challenge the decisions and ideas of their managers openly (Cole, Carter and Zhang, 2016). According to Cole, Carter and Zhang (2016), the alignment of power distance values among leaders, their subordinates and the organisation as a whole leads to positive outcomes such as more significant employee commitment, job satisfaction and higher team performance.

Furthermore, procedural justice is maximised when there is a perfect match between leaders’ and teams’ views of power distance since they interpret and similarly classify their interactions. In this regard, incongruence can make teams feel like authority unfairly treats them, especially when a leader’s power distance values are higher than his team’s, which may result in lower organisational citizenship behaviour (Ely and Thomas, 2001). Even though a perfect alignment of power distance values may seem to be the most desirable scenario, it is very difficult to achieve in practice, mainly because individuals within the same culture may express and perceive varying degrees of power differently (Cole, Carter and Zhang, 2016).

This means that we cannot predict someone’s view towards power distribution and their behaviour based on their cultural background. Therefore, instead of aiming for a perfect match between different instances of power distance, it is vital to become aware of the potential differences in power preferences that may exist among a team to achieve positive workplace relations and maximise team effectiveness.

Leaders and managers should learn to adapt their behaviour to a given multicultural team as much as possible by developing the ability to view different situations from multiple standpoints. Taking a suitable approach when making decisions or assigning tasks is crucial in order to create a feeling of fairness and achieve effective collaboration by employees. For example, management styles could vary based on the task. When performing creative tasks that require initiative and participation, taking a more egalitarian approach could be more favourable, whereas a hierarchical approach may work better for efficiency tasks.

Finally, team members must identify their leader’s or manager’s perceptions to adjust their expectations/ understand what is expected from them and learn how best to communicate their ideas. Variations in employees’ power distance values have a direct impact on the justice climate among teams and their overall performance. For example, a British person, who is more egalitarian, might find unequal power distribution intolerable, and thus, his or her job satisfaction and performance can be severely hindered. Even though these critical differences cannot be observed by travelling, since they are deeply ingrained in each individual’s mind-set, they must not be ignored if an organisation is aiming to succeed majorly in the long term.

Communication Styles

Given that communication is one of the essential elements of managerial work, it may be crucial to gain more insight into how other cultures communicate. This would be necessary to grasp the meaning of every message and take advantage of a culturally diverse workplace where distinct talents are not ignored because of a language barrier. With more corporate agendas that include global expansion to their list of activities, the ability to gather information about the local regulations and customs without being afraid of incorrect translation would become the most significant business advantage over time (Tannen, 1995).

Any obstacles related to the language barrier might be easily overcome within a culturally diverse workplace under the condition where employees display mutual respect and are willing to learn. Communication styles vary across cultures, and such differences lead to discrepancies at work, interpersonal conflicts, affect motivation and performance. Several relevant concepts can be viewed as essential when addressing the question of why communication styles cannot be ignored when establishing a multicultural working environment.

First, there are accents and fluency that affect multicultural teams even without any prior review. With the English language being the global language of business, non-native speakers’ accents often lead to misunderstandings and frustration in the workplace. Language differences often make it hard for employees to express their ideas. Expert but non-fluent team members often have difficulty communicating their knowledge, making it hard for the team to recognise their expertise (Tannen, 1995). This makes them feel less motivated to contribute or even anxious about their career prospects.

Their teammates may also become frustrated by their lack of fluency, which can lead to interpersonal conflicts and ultimately affect the overall performance of the organisation. In the workplace, linguistic styles that we learn in childhood change judgments of competence and confidence, as well as who is heard and who is credited. Tannen (1995), for example, mentioned how many talented employees were not being promoted because their way of speaking made them seem less self-confident.

Motivation, Time Management and Universalism

Cultural differences directly influence employee motivation, which in turn influences work behaviour and job performance. Universalists believe that decisions should be guided by rules that are the same for every situation. Particularists, on the other hand, make choices depending on circumstances and on relationships. According to Rockstuhl et al. (2012), this may be a severe problem for multicultural organisations due to the lack of alignment across employees’ personal and professional objectives, meaning that Russian employees, for example, could majorly disprove a decision made by an American manager.

This can be further extended by the idea that the lack of synchronicity would also create time management issues for the team in the case where there are different cultures involved. Sanchez-Runde and Steers (2001), for instance, considered that time management could also have a significant impact on how employees in multicultural environments see each other. Knowing that polychronic employees might be able to perform several tasks at once, their collaboration with monochronic workers could end in misunderstanding and improper attitudes toward the management. Without proper time management, a culturally diverse team of individuals would struggle with every task.

Strategies to Mitigate Negative Influence of Cultural Differences

Brett, Behfar and Kern (2006) completed one of the most comprehensive research projects in the area of establishing the best strategies to address cultural differences and their potential negative influence on employees and administration. They concluded by stating that there were four essential methods of dealing with the adverse consequences of cultural differences in the workplace: adaptation, structural intervention, managerial intervention and withdrawal. The adaptation strategy is usually required when conflicts get resolved openly, meaning that employees are going to find a balanced position and allow their cultures adapt to each other (Brett, Behfar and Kern, 2006).

The strategy of structural intervention, on the other hand, suggests that management should be directly involved in every culture-based conflict to react quickly to different situations where stereotypical thinking takes over rational thought. According to Brett, Behfar and Kern (2006), in the case of two dissimilar teams from opposite cultures, managerial intervention is widely approved as one of the most efficient strategies to deal with the negative impact of cultural differences.

For instance, when an American team has misunderstandings with a team from China, instead of directly contacting the Chinese managers and breaking the rules of hierarchy, the members of the American side may use the help of the higher-level management. By conforming to hierarchical regulations and asking a higher-level manager to resolve the conflict, team members will make it possible to avoid any additional problems that may arise. The team should not resort to this strategy too often as it risks becoming too reliant on the management, which is also a competitive disadvantage for team members.

Even though Brett, Behfar and Kern (2006) did not view withdrawal as a recommended way of dealing with the drawbacks of cultural diversity in the workplace, they still suggested that the inability to resolve conflicts peacefully could turn resignation into a unique way of solving the existing disputes. The researchers also shared a story where an employee decided to leave the company because of issues caused by cultural misunderstandings. If the source of the problem is the individual who chooses to leave the team, the problem may disappear when the individual withdraws from the organisation. However, in most cases, withdrawals do not solve team conflicts and only create more problems for organisations.


Many benefits of a multicultural working environment can only be accessible under the condition where both the administration and the employees realise the need to follow diversity incentives. Integration and learning shall be considered an essential element of a diversity-based agenda where employees are focused more on the outcomes of their activities than on the cultural differences. The ability to travel and meet new people across the globe or even work remotely in an international company creates a unique amalgamation of transnational skills and knowledge. As employees are gaining more insight into communication styles, they are also improving their standing in the workplace community.

Respect towards organisational diversity helps both the administration and employees realise and value the contribution of team members regardless of their cultural affiliation. The feeling of being valued is the most important aspect of a multicultural workplace that enhances team morale and individual productivity.

The overall significance of the topic can be highlighted with the increasingly high number of possibilities to have culturally diverse employees work together on a set of different assignments where the most unique and ground-breaking solutions have to be proposed. Taking into consideration the information on power distance, communication styles, time management skills and the degree of universalism within the team, it may be safe to say that the increasing cultural diversity is an essential benefit that might give any organisation a competitive advantage over its rivals.

For the company, to acknowledge the existence of cultural diversity in the workplace would mean to encourage employees to share their ideas with the managers and support the organisational vision by any means. Cultural differences would give the management a chance to find the best solution by analysing answers that were brought by diverse cultural backgrounds. Therefore, cultural differences at work still have an impact on employee effectiveness and cannot be ignored if the organisation is aiming to succeed majorly in the long term.

Reference List

Brett, J., Behfar, K., and Kern, M. C. (2006) ‘Managing multicultural teams’, Harvard Business Review, pp. 84-91.

Cole, M. S., Carter, M. Z., and Zhang, Z. (2016) ‘Leader–team congruence in power distance values and team effectiveness: the mediating role of procedural justice climate’, Journal of Applied Psychology, 98(6), pp. 962-973.

Ely, R. J. and Thomas, D. A. (2001) ‘Cultural diversity at work: the effects of diversity perspectives on work group processes and outcomes’, Administrative Science Quarterly, 46, pp. 229-273.

Rockstuhl, T. et al. (2012) ‘Leader–member exchange (LMX) and culture: a meta-analysis of correlates of LMX across 23 countries’, Journal of Applied Psychology, 97(6), pp. 1097-1130.

Sanchez-Runde, C. J. and Steers, R. M. (2001) ‘Cultural influences on work motivation and performance’, in Porter, L., Bigley, G., and Steers, R. (eds.) Motivation and leadership at work. New York: McGraw-Hill College, pp. 357–374.

Tannen, D (1995) ‘The power of talk: who gets heard and why’, Harvard Business Review, 73(5), pp. 138-148.

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