This article relates to the Diversity in the Workplace competency, commonly evaluated in employee satisfaction surveys. This competency explores whether your organization provides understanding and supports interaction among diverse population groups while respecting individuals’ personal values and ideas. Research shows that by fostering a climate where equity and mutual respect are intrinsic, an organization can create a success-oriented, cooperative and caring work environment that draws intellectual strength and produces innovative solutions from the synergy of its people. All businesses can benefit from a diverse body of talent bringing fresh ideas, perspectives, and views to the workplace. However, a diverse workforce means that the managers within your organization must be capable of capitalizing on the mixture of genders, cultural backgrounds, ages, and lifestyles present in your staff to respond to business opportunities more rapidly and creatively.
This short story, Diversity in the Workplace: Ethnic Considerations, is part of AlphaMeasure’s Compilation, Tales from the Corporate Frontlines. This article illustrates how decisions made by large companies can have unintended morale consequences at the local level.
I once worked at a small local company where the employees were not accustomed to dealing with change. It was a family owned business and most of the employees had been there for 20 years or more. They all lived in the same locale, an area of predominantly Western European ancestry steeped in religious heritage and tradition.
When the owner family sold the company to a huge multinational corporation, the changes were big and they happened quickly. Most of them were met with cheerful resignation. But I do remember one that sparked an amazing amount of controversy—changes in the holiday schedule. It was decreed that a long-standing company holiday, the Friday before Easter, also known as Good Friday, was to be scratched to make room for the secular national holiday of President’s Day, never previously observed. Not a big deal, you might think, but considering the demographic of this particular part of the company, the outcry was awesome.
Most of the affected employees were women, with families and children, for whom the Easter weekend held great religious significance. For them, it’s not just a one-day holiday, there are three days of religious observances, customs, and celebrations that require massive amounts of cooking, cleaning, and shopping. Many of these employees used vacation or personal time to prepare and then took the Monday after off to recuperate. They had followed these traditions all their lives and deeply resented having their holiday cut short.
They registered complaints, both written and verbal, in fact, HR was besieged. The union representing some of the employees expressed its displeasure. As a three-year employee from another region, I was amazed by the enormity of the outcry.
The huge, multinational parent company, however, was not. Executives listened to the complaints with sympathy and regret, but would do nothing. The company procedure was to go to the national level only when setting holiday schedules—it simply wasn’t practical to make allowances for local ethnic considerations.
Looking back, I think the company should have changed, or at least reviewed, their policy. There were some really unhappy workers during that first spring season, and for the ten years I remained at that company, discontent was reawakened every time both holidays rolled around. In fact, in an online employee satisfaction survey completed four years later, it was still the number one complaint.
Sometimes large companies, in an effort to embrace diversity in the workplace, need to be flexible to allow for local ethnic considerations.