Culture and Psychology in the Workplace – How To Manage and Thrive in a Diverse Office

The success of any company begins at its core – the people. And when it comes to employee retention, according to British author, motivational speaker, and business consultant Marcus Buckingham, “People leave managers, not companies.”

I work in a small office of around ten people, but between us we’re a mix of English, Swiss, French, Russian, Bulgarian and American cultures. We are ‘the core’ behind the brand Oliver Wicks, and we tailor custom made-to-measure suits for clients from all around the globe.

Our office environment is a wonderful place. Here I am as an Englishman, living in Bulgaria, liaising with a Russian about writing a blog post in American English – I’m experiencing cultural differences and guess what, it’s awesome! We joke in the office about how the Bulgarians struggle to pronounce ‘suit’ (“Ts-oot”), when we’ll hear our Swiss colleague perform on the Alpenhorn, and why our American friend calls his trousers “pants,” and so on.

Many managers often feel uneasy, or even intimated, at the prospect of having different cultures under the same roof. They may fear offending or being accused of discrimination. The truth is that this is a perfect opportunity to bring diversity and positive energy to the workplace. We must see the glass as half-full.

Do not fear differences﹘Embrace them. Enjoy them. Respect them.

Of course, this is a question of balance. If you’ve offended someone, or maybe they’ve offended you, try not to overreact, but seek to make things right. Unless intentionally malicious, it was likely just an accident caused by misunderstanding. Healthy offices communicate very well, so talk among your colleagues, in private if necessary, to settle things and clear the air.

5 Ideas to Improve Your Office Environment Today

1)     Stationary Supply Check

Do all staff have their own pens, pencils, notebooks, etc? Is Sarah busting her back daily on a broken chair that’s been with the company since it was founded 12 years ago? This may seem insignificant, but details like that help the staff feel supported and valued.

 2)     Monthly Food Days

This is a fun one that we have at Oliver Wicks. On the first Thursday of every month, we have “Junk Food Day.” We agree on a take-out restaurant and order for the whole office. We leave our workstations and eat together in the kitchen. People talk, people laugh, people forget that they’re at work – we enjoy each other’s company!

Of course, it’s also important to recognize that people have different personalities. Introverts, for example, may not appreciate the feeling of being forced into such an event. Such an opportunity may be presented, but staff must be at ease with the feeling that they can opt out if they wish to and not face judgment. 

 3)     Medals, Trophies or Icons

You can tailor this one specifically to a business or keep them generalized. Make up some medals displaying “Most Improved,” “Best Angry Customer Resolution,” “Greatest Review Score” or whatever you see fit. You can even create fun ones to make light of negative situations.

We have a ‘poop emoji’ stuffed toy that gets placed on someone’s desk if they make a silly mistake or forget to set their alarm clock. While this is taken in good humor in our own office, it’s important to be careful and consider any negative impacts that such a move could have. The last thing any employee wants is to find themselves in hot water in the HR department over a joke that went sour.

 4)     Acknowledge Birthdays

We have a general calendar that everyone can access. It includes important company information, as well as staff birthdays and anniversaries from when they first joined the company. We have secret chat groups where we all chip in and buy a birthday present when these dates pop up. This may not be practical for large offices, but there are many ways in which you can still show appreciation for such dates.

 5)     Monthly Out-of-Work Activities

As colleagues, we’ve gone paintballing, ice-skating, and go-karting; taken painting and cooking classes (that may or may not have included alcohol, depending on who’s telling the story), many other things. These kinds of social gatherings are a great way to blow off steam, keep the office relationships fresh and positive, and smooth over office-related stress and tension.

As I’ve mentioned though, it’s important to consider all personality types, and no colleague should ever feel any pressure if they do not want to join in. Be sure to consider some activities that allow people to enjoy themselves at their own pace, without any expectation to talk or engage in a certain way. Such ideas could be a guided walking tour through a historic town, or a trip to a local museum.

A healthy and productive office begins with a framework that ensures all staff feel welcome, supported and valued. To achieve such an environment, we must observe human psychology to optimize a balance, rather than over-rely on disciplinary actions.

A good parent, for example, is someone who shows love and encouragement to their child but is capable of using discipline when necessary. Constantly yelling at a child to behave better, or to improve their grades, doesn’t only fail to achieve the desired results, but it has a reverse effect and worsens the whole situation. On the flip side, a parent who never enforces firm discipline (firm but fair – important!) will just as likely end up with an underperforming, bratty child. This could be a long article by itself, but the point to take is that “love” and “discipline” must co-exist to allow a balanced, respect-worthy environment.

Much like parenting a child, getting the most out of employees is about understanding their feelings. The goal is to create an environment that lends itself to a feeling of self-worth, happiness and fulfillment. With such a system in place, staff will flourish naturally. Their work quality, productivity and contributions to the success of the company will improve enormously. Back to the balance idea though. If Steve comes into work still under the influence from his night on the town, or Sally has been funding her gold jewellery collection with the help of the company accounts, then it’s time to get tough. 

Final Thought

As humans, we are living organisms whose conscious and subconscious minds are made up of complex emotions. Truth be known, we’re extremely delicate. Next time you walk into your office, actively seek to contribute to its overall sense of happiness. Show an interest in people’s cultures and interests, but don’t be too intrusive. Encourage motivation for success, don’t create a fear of failure.

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