How to manage cultural differences in workplace?

All people in the world are unique. Nevertheless, there are societies around the world that share behaviours and norms: cultures. Cultures have their own way of methodologies, thought processes, beliefs, morals and ethics. For some cultures, it’s hard to live together or to live beside each other due to the differences between each other. In the workplace, we have to work together and that is not always easy; cultural differences have their advantages and disadvantages.


Cultures differ. At work, this could result in difficult situations. Being a manager of a multicultural department can be tough. Cultures differ, for example, in how they view time. The balance between work and family life differs as the balance between work and social behaviour at the office. A more concrete example is a deadline; a deadline or just being on time for a meeting has not for everyone the same definition. Working together as a team is not always easy.


A team full of diversity is not a problem. However, some things may not come as naturally in a culturally-diverse team as in a mono-cultural team. As a result, it’s important that you know exactly what is on the team’s mind. Managers should take the time to learn about the skills, knowledge and backgrounds of their staff; this allows managers to find out about the differences and similarities between the cultural values of their staff and build on those varieties for the benefit of the group.


Companies have to deal with deadlines. Deadlines can create stressful situations, something which is difficult for all employees. Working together as a team can prevent these stressful situations. Teams perform more effectively when working together which results in targets that are reachable more easily. This is positive for the employees themselves but especially the company, a win-win situation.

Cultural differences

A year which begins with January 1st and ends on December 31st is, for most of the people this is not a point of discussion. Some cultures use widely different calendars to determine the start of the new year or specific holidays. For example, the Chinese New Year, which is based on the Lunar Calendar. The Lunar Calendar is based on complete cycles of phases of the moon. The Chinese New Year marks the start of a new lunar year. Another example is that Eastern Orthodox Christians celebrate Christmas on a different day than western Christians.

My own experience confirms these differences between Asia and Europa and especially Malaysia. I am doing an internship in Kuala Lumpur and this is my first time in Asia. I come from The Netherlands and I can state that Malaysia is different in every single way from my country. For example, the public holidays in Malaysia. There are many cultural and religious holidays; birthdays of sultans and the Chinese New Year. These are only a few of the public holidays which are celebrated in Malaysia.

These variations affect the workplace as people require time off to observe their holidays. Managers should schedule these days in advance so there are no problems when deadlines are getting closer and the level of stress is getting higher.

Benefit from each other

As mentioned, cultures differ from each other, but that doesn’t have to be a problem. It can be harnessed into a strength. Effective cross-cultural team-building is the key to benefit from the potential advantages of cultural diversity in the workplace. Learn from each other and have respect for other religions. Benefiting from each others’ quality and characteristics can result in a strong and well-performing team.

Many businesses have clients across the globe. Having a culturally-diverse staff can help facilitate stronger relationships with these clients. Having a variety of backgrounds and experiences in your workforce can encourage innovation and ‘out of the box’ creative thinking and decision making. Different cultures can learn a lot from each other and this can result in advantages for the company and for the individual employee.

Maarten Brouwer is doing an internship at AQ Services International in Kuala Lumpur. He studies Marketing Management at the Hanze University of Applied Sciences in Groningen, The Netherlands. The choice to do an internship in Kuala Lumpur fits the personal interest in different cultures.

Read more of Maarten’s articles here.