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Be Culturally Aware

By: Paul MacKenzie-Cummings - Updated: 5 Sep 2012 | comments*Discuss
Be Culturally Aware

The UK has one of the most diverse and multi-cultural workforces in the world and the increasingly interdependent and global marketplace of the new millennium brings with it new challenges. With differences in values, beliefs, norms, manners and etiquette there is plenty of room for misunderstandings and poor communication. And the things that many of us may consider to be normal can be viewed quite differently by others.

For instance, Latin American’s regard the ‘thumbs-up’ signal as a sexual gesture. Whereas many Africans avoid eye contact with their elders when talking to them as a sign of respect.

And compared to other countries, the UK’s reasonably relaxed and informal office environment is initially regarded as unprofessional to most Japanese and German workers.

So if a person came to work in the UK and was unaware of such issues, they may well be misunderstood if they raised an eyebrow, didn’t look you in the eye or did not join in with the office banter.

But, perhaps the most common misunderstanding, however, is that of religion. As religion and culture are inextricably linked, they can have an effect on the day to day lifespan of the office. Therefore, an appreciation of the diversity of cultures and religions practised in the UK is crucial to ensure successful working relationships in the workplace.

Here we have selected the most popular religions in the UK and provided a brief summary of each to help you understand the differences you may experience in your new workplace.


There are approximately 1.6 million Muslims in Britain, making up 2.8 per cent of the population. Devout Muslims, for instance, will pray at dawn, early afternoon, sunset and late in the evening. The month of Ramadan – followed by Eid-ul-Fitr - requires every adult to abstain from all food and drink from dawn to sunset for one lunar month.

In Islam, all food is classed as either halal (lawful) or haram (prohibited). Pork and alcohol are strictly prohibited.

And, men and women are required to dress ‘modestly’. However, although Western clothes may be worn, women are encouraged to wear loose fitting garments to conceal their figures.


In Judaism there are 21 holy days in the calendar apart from the weekly Sabbath, including Rosh Hashana (New Year) and Yom Kippur or Day of Atonement.

Jews are obliged to eat certain types of meat and fish, or kosher food. And, dairy foods are strictly forbidden to be eaten in the same meal as meat. And, practicing Jewish men are required to wear a Kippah (skull cap).


Sikhs also celebrate several festivals, the main one being Vaisakhi.

Animal by-products, the consumption of alcohol and smoking are all prohibited in Sikhism. Sikh men are obligated to wear turbans to cover their uncut hair and some married Sikh women, like their Hindu counterparts, may also wear a bindi - a red powder spot in the centre of the forehead.

If we had included all the many hundreds of other religions here, this article would start to resemble a new online version of War & Peace. However, by familiarising ourselves with the different cultures that we work with, we can forge stronger relationships and create a healthier working environment for all.

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