In this modern Singaporean society, there’s a high chance you’ve got a couple of colleagues from other countries. Close to half the people currently residing in Singapore are non-citizens who were born and grew up in a place very different from our own—we’re pretty sure there aren’t too many people from other food- and shopping-obsessed microstates living and working here.
Unfortunately, this diversity in the workplace sometimes translates to people not being able to get along, or becoming more inefficient at work due to miscommunication. The internet is full of Singaporeans who gripe about colleagues from certain countries, or complain about coworkers with a certain skin colour being promoted before them.
But sometimes working with people hailing from other parts of the world can make a company more awesome (take the MoneySmart office for example). A workplace where everyone is tolerant of others’ personal quirks and people put real effort into communicating with each other is seriously a beautiful thing to behold, and sorely lacking in our current SMEs. Let’s face it, Singaporeans have a lot to learn at work.
Whether you’re running your own company or work at one that hires lots of “FTs”, try the following, or encourage your employees to do so, and you’ll find massive improvement in the way teams work together.
Expand your social circle to include non-Singaporeans
Despite the fact that Singapore is itself multicultural, the level of tolerance and understanding the typical Singaporean displays towards foreigners is pretty low. Whether it’s making condescending remarks about colleagues’ lack of fluency in English or putting on a fake accent when speaking with others, many Singaporeans are more comfortable talking to their local colleagues in Singlish accents.
If you work closely with colleagues of a certain nationality or from a certain cultural background and always find communicating with them a bit awkward, try this—make friends with one person with a similar national or cultural background. Get to know this person enough to knock back a pint together after work, or grab a coffee with on a Sunday.
Obviously two people from the same country can be very, very different. But I find that just becoming familiar with someone from a particular culture really helps any hang-ups or prejudices you might have towards their people as a whole evaporate.
Make the effort to socialise with your foreign colleagues
I’ve heard stories of employees from certain countries being ostracised at my friends’ workplaces, and this is not only sad, it also affects productivity at work and team morale.
If you spend all your time gossiping or complaining about foreign colleagues and communicate with them only when you have to and even then, as little as possible, you’re probably not doing the best work possible.
Hate to break it to you, but lots of foreigners working alongside Singaporeans notice that the locals don’t participate as much in after-work gatherings, especially if the company employs a large number of foreigners who then tend to stick together.
If you make the effort to actually socialise with your foreign colleagues during lunch or after work and get to know them on a personal level, rather than continue thinking of them as “that Indian,” “that PRC” or “that ang moh”, you might finally start to build some real rapport with them.
Start taking an interest in different languages and cultures
Singaporeans working overseas often complain that people think their country is a part of China. But seriously, how many people here bother to take an interest in the countries and cultures of their foreign colleagues?
If you’ve got to work closely with non-Singaporeans, it’s nice to take a genuine interest in their language and culture beyond simply repeating stereotypes. That doesn’t mean you need to break out into fluent Tagalog or start studying Danish. But at least find out something about the cultural background of the people you work with.
When you do this, you not only stop making stupid and potentially offensive remarks, you also start becoming more interested in your foreign colleagues as people, rather than simply as economic digits. You start to be more understanding towards their beliefs and their way of working, which helps you find ways to effectively cooperate.
It’s only a matter of time before Singaporeans get almost completely replaced by foreigners, since we’re not reproducing very much. So it’s time to stop pretending that things are going to go back to the way they once were and start learning how to work with people who may not know how to correctly use “la” in a sentence.
What experiences have you had in a multicultural workplace? Tell us in the comments!