Managing diversity

Leaders need to learn how to harness the benefits of a multi-cultural workforce

Managing diversity

An increasingly mobile workforce means that people from different countries are relocating, in pursuit of better prospects.

There has been a spike in the number of foreigners here in recent years. These numbers help to ease the labour crunch in certain industries here.

Indeed, Singapore’s multi-cultural makeup has intensified, as more individuals from different countries, races and cultures become our friends, neighbours, colleagues and employees.

There are benefits to having diversity in the workplace and these include increased creativity as different ideas come together.

Having a diverse workforce may also enable your organisation to move into new markets, as you are able to tap on in-house knowledge if your employees hail from those countries.

On the flipside, the downside risk is that cultural conflict may arise due to language barriers and even outright prejudice against new blood.

As a leader, how do you manage the diversity in the office well so that you have a happy and productive workforce?

Facilitate acclimatisation and assimilation

This begins with a proper orientation programme. Ideally, it should bring together both locals and foreigners, so that everyone has a clear understanding of the company’s mission, vision and values, as well as its working culture and environment.

You should also create opportunities for regular interaction between locals and foreigners across all hierarchical levels, such as sending them for training together or through social activities like staff dinners and specially designed “diversity retreats”.

These interactions will encourage employees to get to know each other better other outside of work.

Assign mentors

As a manager, you need to understand the key role you play in helping the new employee become an important contributor to the company.

This is even more critical for a foreign newbie with different cultural expectations. One way is to assign a mentor, preferably a well-respected person from the department, who can help ease the integration process for the foreign employee.

Resolve conflict quickly

Should any personality or cultural clash arise, handle it in a professional manner and resolve it as quickly as possible. It is important to protect your work environment and curb the negative contagion from infecting your other workers because low employee morale equals low productivity.

Be fair

As an employer or leader, it is imperative that you treat everyone equally, regardless of where they came from. Make sure that people are appraised based on performance and not on personal preferences, as any sign of favouritism will spread like wildfire negatively through the ranks.

Take care of spouses

Often and easily overlooked, the spouse plays an integral role in your employee’s happiness and, hence, his or her productivity at work. So if a spouse or family is involved in the relocation, take the initiative to help them integrate into society so that they feel more comfortable with the change. This will help give your foreign employees added peace of mind so that they can focus better at work.

Today’s leaders need to understand that increased diversity in the workplace is inevitable. It is thus critical that they learn to manage it well so that the company can harness the benefits of a diverse workforce while eradicating any potential obstacles for the future success of the company.

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