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  • Writer's pictureCraig Sam


How many times have you heard that “HR is not your friend” or that HR does nothing? Or worse still, some managers ‘think’ they understand HR and Employee Relations and you are there to pick up the pieces? This can happen in any workplace, but more so when you have large cohorts of culturally diverse, employees?

So, what is culturally appropriate HR? Simply, culturally appropriate and sensitive HR services are ones that engage employees, empathise with their cultural obligations and address issues in a culturally sensitive way. That includes workplace investigations, management reviews, appropriate training in employee obligations, 360º referee checks to ensure the right fit for the organisation, culturally sensitive recruitment panels and independent appropriate exit interviews to capture corporate knowledge and lessons learnt.

HR Teams and internal cultural appropriateness

Supplying culturally appropriate HR services often means looking at your own HR team and ensuring that people have the right fit and skill to provide services to your employees. If you have a culturally diverse workforce and a mono-cultural HR team, don’t expect great engagement. Moreover, it is important to recognise your own internal biases when providing HR services. This isn’t a new phenomenon and has been a feature of HR for several decades. But it is important that we as HR professionals address these issues internally.

Many times we have addressed workplace issues where there is discord amongst Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island staff. And it is usually due to a lack of understanding by Management that all Indigenous people are the same which results in cultural tension between the traditional people of that land and other Indigenous workers who are not from that country. Rarely, does an organisation have the internal expertise or skill set to address the matter until it becomes a major issue.

Onboarding Indigenous employees is also another area where an organisation can run into problems. So many organisations believe there is assumed knowledge on workplace behaviours including start and finish time, after hours behaviours, resource use. We have seen many Indigenous employees who have been given little to no training in organisational policies and workplace practices and who then run afoul of policies simply because no one said that behaviour was not permitted.

Take the case of Hone, who was employed at a major retailer. His brother was killed in a car accident in New Zealand in January and he was given leave to attend his funeral. When Hone’s father died unexpectedly two months later, he was told by his manager and then HR that he had already taken bereavement leave and that if he wanted to attend his father’s funeral he would have to resign. HR could have stepped in here and explained Hone’s cultural obligations. They could have given him leave without pay or allowed him to use annual leave. Unsurprisingly, Hone’s family obligations outweighed his loyalty to an employer who had little cultural sensitivity and he resigned. The company lost an employee they had spent tens of thousands of dollars training.

Culturally sensitive HR isn’t rocket science but it can be difficult to enact if your HR team is missing those skill sets. Our advice is when in doubt ask! Get yourself advice whether that be from an expert, a trusted employee or even a multicultural organisation.

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