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How to Understand Office Culture and International Workers

Updated on July 9, 2014

Cultural Competency at Work

America is more a melting pot now than at any other time in its history. Everybody is coming here. Not only must we understanding the Corporate Culture in which we work, we need to understand several ethnic and minority cultures that have entered our national workforce and local places of employment.

Since immigrants need to work, when they come to America, and often some her mainly to find good employment, frontline supervisors and management personnel need to develop a good sense of cultural competency at work.

The OhioHealth network of caregivers adopted cultural competency values and training in the 1990s for its healthcare personnel and treatment facilities. This has since enabled a gradual increase in positive outcomes in heath care for minority groups, especially African Americans, Hispanics, African ethnic groups, women, Asians, and others.


Cultural competence is a set of congruent behaviors, attitudes, and policies that come together to make sense in a system, an agency, or within a professional group or groups. This competence enables these entities to work effectively in cross-cultural situations, according the research of Cross et al. in 1989 and Isaacs & Benjamin in 1991.

In a practical and operational sense, cultural competence is the integration and transformation of knowledge about individuals and groups of people into specific standards, policies, practices, and attitudes to be applied to appropriate cultural settings. This application increases quality of services and produces better healthcare outcomes, according to the findings of Davis in 1997.

[Cross T., Bazron, B., Dennis, K., & Isaacs, M. (1989). Towards a culturally competent system of care, volume I. Washington, D.C.: Georgetown University Child Development Center, CASSP Technical Assistance Center.

Davis, K. (1997). Exploring the intersection between cultural competency and managed behavioral health care policy: Implications for state and county mental health agencies. Alexandria, VA: National Technical Assistance Center for State Mental Health Planning.]

Office Culture, Global Culture

The increasing numbers of people originating from different ethnicities are becoming the changing labor force and consumer market in the US. A commitment to lifelong learning and how to achieve global standards in a worldwide workforce is needed. International peoples are competing for American colleges and jobs as never before.

Lifelong learning on the job can help American-born citizens as well as International peoples. It includes running day-to-day workplace operations with an awareness of their own personal and other cultural backgrounds. The experiences of managers, as well as those of workers, clients, and customers, need to be respected. Cultural values and beliefs are important, because they influence the formation of a person's identity. Most vital in this personality development is the native language. Language is part of one's personality. For example, there are concepts in French that cannot be translated into English and do not really exist in other languages and cultures. One of these is a term for a man that means approximately that his relationship with a woman is "less than a husband, but more than a friend" and that is still incorrect.

Individual and language-based identity creates the type of manager or supervisor that the person will become. Such a leader must appreciate and understand his own culture as that of his subordinates and coworkers in order to supervise them humanely and receive good results from their work in order to meet company goals.

A leader that understands cultural competency has these skills:


Leaders know themselves and their own cultures. They know their own corporate culture. They know the expectations at work for employees and management staff and are able to enforce them. They know the usual workplace etiquette and the chain of command. They also know the rules and regulations. All of these factors help them to know how to interact with others, including bosses, coworkers, subordinates, vendors, and customers. People that consistently cannot interact appropriately are labeled with psychological problems, in America and in other societies. If this is a result of cultural incompetence because of innocent ignorance, then the individual may receive training to alleviate the problem.

Awareness of one's own culture.

How does one's culture affect the way one relates to people?

Awareness of the cultures of others.

Familiarity with other cultures and customs can offer a broader perspective as far as why people react in certain ways to different situations. Insults are different in many cultures and can be distributed with a gesture that means something good in another culture. This means that there is much room for misunderstanding without some help and training.

Awareness of racism and sexism.

As a manager or supervisor, a person must be aware of these problems in society and enforce company policies against such practices 100% of the time. Racism and sexism are illegal at work.

Awareness of individual differences.

Each person will bring different experiences to the workplace. This should widen the opportunity for finding solutions to work challenges with a wider range form which to chose. Additional perspectives allow a work team to see a problem form more different angles. Think of it this way - not everyone is allergic to poison ivy (I'm not!); some people are allergic to peanuts and can die from ingesting them, but not everyone is; some people are colorblind, but not all people are; some individuals have photographic (eidetic) memory, but not everyone does; and some people are so intuitive that they are profilers for the FBI, but not everyone is.

"The Book of Cultural Added Values of Prefixed Americans" by Jacqueline B. Dickens and Floyd Dickens, Jr. helps managersto get more output from their work force.

Value Diversity

Why should managers understand other cultures instead of employees from other cultures adapting to the managers' culture?

Simply put, both need to occur, and while managers must understand and not enable ethic and other minorities to be insulted, neither should they allow a minority of the workforce to dictate that their incoming culture should overtake the particular workplace. If it becomes the majority culture of the workplace, then it will naturally have ascendancy. There must be mutual understanding and accommodation as allowed by law.


On the west side of our city in the 1990s, an influx of hardworking Hispanic peoples arrived and went to work in restaurants and factories. In the factories, there was some difficulty with language understanding, and several employers brought in English as a Second Language classes to the factories for lunch and even a few hours of actual work time weekly. In addition, some employers used pictures and comic-strip-like instructions for these workers while they learned more English. Buttons and levers in the factories and n equipment were also labeled with meaningful pictures as a stopgap measure. Some managers and supervisors learned a little Spanish as well.


In the former Soviet Union, many of the westernmost republics taught all elementary students not only Russian or their own republic's language, but also French and English in the 1960s - 1970s, in order to prepare these children for a global market place as adults. This was good planning. These children were prepared to work with Europeans, many of whom spoke English, and Americans.


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