Article Topic Managing Workplace Diversity

The Straits Times, Thursday, 7th Jun 2012

Managing a Diverse Workforce

An increasingly mobile workforce means that people from different countries are travelling to greener pastures in pursuit of better prospects. Take Singapore as a classic example. We have seen a spike in foreigners in our midst in recent years, as they are needed to help ease the labour crunch in certain industries here. Indeed, Singapore’s multi-cultural makeup has intensified, as more individuals of different countries, races and cultures become our friends, neighbours, colleagues and employees.

There are certainly benefits to having diversity in the workplace and these include increased creativity as different ideas come together, resulting in the possibility of greater innovation. 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 the 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 & 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 levels of workers, be it by sending them for trainings together or through social activities like staff dinners and even specially designed ‘diversity retreats’. This would encourage employees to get to know each other better and develop an appreciation for each 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 individual 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, be sure to 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 the Spouse

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 employee 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.

Ronald Lee
Managing Director
PrimeStaff Management Services Pte Ltd



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