How to Celebrate Cultural Differences in the Workplace

night at the museum culture difference

In today’s multicultural world it would be weird if all your fellow coworkers were from the same ethnic background as you. People move around the world a lot, and workplaces have now become a lot more like airport terminals where you get to be with all sorts of people. If your workplace doesn’t have people from different cultural backgrounds you’re missing out on all the fun. Cultural diversity makes us excited because it means we get to taste food from all around the world –why would you ever go to fusion restaurants when your workplace is the biggest fusion kitchen in town? Plus, we get to learn how to say dirty words in all sort of languages and who doesn’t love that?

If your company’s fallen behind on celebrating cultural diversity, fear not. With this how to guide you’ll get to experience the best of every culture and work days will never be boring again.

So, what are some ways to celebrate being a diverse company? Let’s see: 

1. Recognize New Holidays

Chances are your company calendar only focuses on the major western holidays, like Christmas and Easter. Learning about the holidays of the other cultures in your company will not only help the holiday section of your newsletter look more interesting, but you never know what wild and crazy days you’ll find out about if you ask.

Celebrating different holidays throughout the year doesn’t just mean that you respect cultural diversity. It also means that you get to have more fun –in the office- throughout the year. It’s not necessarily about slacking off, it’s that you’ll feel more motivated and more productive if you have something to look forward to. And this is true for all employees.

2. Diversity Days

The point of Diversity Days is to have days when the different cultures in your workplace are celebrated through different events and efforts to actually learn about each other’s cultures. And hey if this means that you are losing half an hour’s work blame it on your wish to learn about different cultures. Who’d scold you for that?

Here’s a fact you really do know: the only thing we love as much as money is food. Ok let’s be serious, you definitely love food more than money and if you don’t have a regular company potluck when everyone is encouraged to bring in traditional food from their cultures, you’re missing out on some amazing new food experiences. Everyone doesn’t have lunch together? Don’t worry! You’ll still get to taste that amazing curry. Set up a buffet so people can pick at it throughout the day and make sure that the person who made it has written a small note about it. If you have the facilities, why not have days when employees can demonstrate how to make a food from their country?

Of course, it doesn’t just have to be food, if you’re worried about everyone getting too full to work or the smells being too distracting -or if your boss is worried about that, which is more likely, who are we kidding? Why not try some of these ideas instead"

  • Go on an office trip to a local museum or exhibit. Make the person from that culture be the tour guide and compliment them on everything. That way you are sure to get a dinner invitation at their house.
  • Why not have a day each week when you all go to lunch together? You can go to a local ethnic establishment rather than ordering your usual pizza, and the employees of that ethnicity share stories about their country and culture and tell you how the company would be run in their country - you might get some good ideas!
  • Social events that encourage interaction, perhaps with a fun quiz to see who has learned the most about everyone else.
  • A block party catered by local ethnic businesses, and attended by people outside the office. This would both look good for the company’s image and take the pressure off the relevant employee, especially if there’s only one of them. They’re supposed to be having fun too, not sitting on a chair in the corner so people can interrogate them. Plus, this way you can make your life long dream of drinking at the office true.

3. Deck the Halls With... um... Well, Anything

Stuck for ideas on how to decorate the office? Bring culture into it. No this doesn’t mean you get to have a Japanese garden room and a French bistro meeting room. Although come to think of it, why not? But if you want to be more discreet why not go for plants? Are there plants or furnishings that could become a talking point for visitors, and might help some employees feel more at home if they’re still adapting to their new country? There could be different displays for the different cultures that get changed each month or quarter, or one big permanent display that shows all the different places your employees are from. If you’re lacking space or blank walls, why not go for a big globe where people can write on, or have everyone decorate their cubicles?

An alternative is to get a world map and have everyone stick a pin on the place where they’re from, along with their name and a small note. This would give other employees something to use to strike up a conversation, and could encourage new workplace interactions between people from different departments. A list alongside it of all the different languages the employees speak could be both a fun fact to be aware of (which department knows the most languages?) and beneficial if a foreign visitor who needs assistance comes in.

4. Celebrate the Company

Christmas parties can be difficult if you have people from different backgrounds in the office. Some people might feel offended that they have to celebrate something that it’s just so outside their culture. But of course this doesn’t mean you should have no party at all. Who’d want that? The point is to have a party that will make everyone feel included. Rather than trying to change the name and the decorations in order to avoid offence or anyone feeling left out, why not just call it Company End of Year Party? It isn’t going to happen on Christmas day and you’re all (hopefully) about to stop working for the year, so it would in some ways be more accurate.

Instead of making it about Christmas, make it about celebrating the goals and successes of the company and its employees. There could be small prizes for the employees who became employee of the month, for those who introduced everyone to the best new holiday or food, or the person who had the best idea for that new project or process. Everyone might not celebrate Christmas, but everyone has worked to make the company succeed and this is important to celebrate as it improves the company culture and makes people feel included.

Go all out on this day and remember to include things from everyone’s culture, whether that’s a fake Chinese dragon or German beer. The target is to have fun.  

See Also: How to Develop Cultural Awareness

It’s important to remember that you shouldn’t force an employee to share if they don’t want to, and never penalize anyone for not wanting to participate in something, especially if it clashes with their own beliefs. Once you start forcing people to participate, it stops being a celebration of everyone’s differences and improving the company’s sense of community and it starts being more about others’ perception of the company.

Does your company have a diverse workforce? How do you celebrate and acknowledge it? Let us know in the comments section below.