Cultural Barriers in Professional Settings


Cultivating a diverse and inclusive workforce can be beneficial by providing a company with a variety of perspectives which can help solve problems and drive innovation. But there can also be some cultural barriers that must be overcome in order to fully optimise the productivity and potential of the team. 


When teams are made up of people from different backgrounds, whether that be due to social status, race, gender or religion, there is a need for each team member as well as the manager to understand the cultural differences in perspective and attitude towards workplace behaviour.  


Here we look at some common cultural barriers and how to overcome them, especially with regard to people from less privileged backgrounds.  


Common Cultural Barriers in the Workplace 

There is a wide variety of attitudes towards appropriate behaviour in professional settings all around the world, as well as between people of differing backgrounds within the same country or community. Understanding these differences is important in order to ensure everybody is aligned together professionally and working productively together. 


For example, some countries place a lot of value on arriving on time to work and meetings, while others are more relaxed about punctuality. There can also be differences between personal space requirements, while some people will feel comfortable speaking about issues with management while others will not. Identifying such differences and helping everybody find an equilibrium through shared workplace expectations is vital for creating a harmonious working environment where everyone feels safe and included. 


Another common barrier can occur between employees from relatively privileged backgrounds and those from less privileged backgrounds. This often manifests in the form of miscommunication or misinterpretation of expectations. Even people from the same city may have vastly different dialects and common slang terms, as well as differing perspectives on appropriate workplace attire and attitudes towards authority.  


Overcoming Cultural Barriers in Professional Settings 

While cultural differences should be identified and recognised, that doesn’t mean they should all be accommodated without question. Professional settings require everybody to make some adjustments to their usual behaviour in order to facilitate a productive and harmonious working environment.  


For example, someone who usually curses a lot in their normal speech may have to rein in their use of expletives in a professional setting. People who frequently use street slang to communicate will need to adapt to a more standardised form of communication when in a meeting or speaking professionally with colleagues. 


But it is also important not to make anyone feel demeaned or diminished because of any adjustments they have to make. For example, workers from less-privileged backgrounds may feel inadequate, overlooked or disrespected, if they are corrected harshly or flippantly. A better method is some form of professional mentoring which will provide them with the tools they need to improve and evolve, ultimately empowering them to achieve their true potential.  


Employers can also introduce cross-cultural training programs which are a great way to bring people together and align their professional perspectives. Not only will such programs enable managers to successfully manage a culturally diverse team, but can also teach workers how to act appropriately, as well as how to react when a colleague does act inappropriately. 


If you’re hiring for a new role in 2024, get in touch with our specialist recruitment team here at Exchange Street to help you find the perfect cultural fit to improve and diversify your organisation. 


Exchange Street