Employee Rewards and Recognition for Multi-cultural Workforce

Many organizations with a multi-cultural workforce still struggle to retain their best employees through rewards and recognition. This is primarily due to the fact that these organizations fail to develop a reward program that takes the cultural sensitivities of the employees into consideration.

While most organizations focus on having an innovative and diverse rewards program, but they fail to factor in the cultural nuances to make it truly effective and satisfactory for their employees hailing from different countries and cultures across the globe.

Why is creating an employee recognition program for a multi-cultural workforce challenging?

It is a well-known fact that different things might hold a completely different meaning in various cultures. That is why the lack of understanding of the cultural values and nuances of different groups can make even the best rewards meaningless and may actually be hurtful and insulting for the recipients.

This can surely impact the overall motivation and engagement level of the employees and force them to seek other employment options. In comparison, organizations that focus on the cultural differences between members of their multi-cultural workforce while developing their employee recognition programs enjoy better retention rates along with higher employee performance and efficiency.

What are the key points to consider for creating a multi-cultural employee recognition program?

Creating an employee recognition program, suitable for a workforce comprising of members belonging to several distinct cultures, requires the organization to focus on several important things as discussed below:

1. Get to know the recipients

Every time an organization chooses to reward and recognize one of its employees, it should invest time and effort in gaining information about his/her cultural background. The organizations should especially focus on learning about how sensitive the employees are about their culture and its various nuances.

Some employees may not even be aware of specific aspects of their culture that others might find offensive, while others may feel extremely sensitive about even the least practiced cultural aspects. Making an effort to understand the cultural sensitivity of the recipients can help plan their rewards and recognition in a better and more satisfactory manner.

2. Learn about overlapping cultural aspects

Companies should also try to learn about some major cultural aspects, especially those aspects that might overlap with other cultures but might have an entirely different meaning in each community. This is especially true in the case of employees belonging to Asian, African or even Middle Eastern communities.

This will prevent the organizations from making any serious mistakes while rewarding the employees of a multi-cultural workforce due to a lack of proper understanding of the seemingly insignificant cultural nuances. In some cases, this oversight may prove catastrophic as it might lead to the alienation of an entire section of the workforce belonging to a specific culture with one singe oversight.

3. Verify the truth of cultural stereotypes

Cultural stereotypes can lead to unconscious bias and often cloud the decisions related to choosing the best rewards for employees. As such it is important for organizations to ensure that they verify the truth behind these cultural stereotypes and how relevant these may be for the employees about to be rewarded and recognized.

This is applicable for both positive and negative stereotypes, although following the latter blindly is likely to cause greater damage. In case the stereotypes are verified to be true and are likely to influence employee reward and recognition significantly, then it is advisable for companies to seek alternative solutions.

4. Establish clear lines of communication

Most organizations communicate with their top-performing employees through indirect channels. This can give rise to a lot of assumptions and confusion, especially with respect to the cultural nitty-gritty. Hence it is important for organizations with a global multi-cultural workforce to establish clear and direct lines of communication between the employees and their managers.

This proves beneficial for both the parties involved as the managers can gain a better understanding of the employee ideology and outlook while also getting a direct solution to any doubts and queries about their culture and ethnic beliefs.

5. Focus on building a unique organization culture

One effective way for organizations to make their employee rewards and recognition programs work for their multi-cultural workforce is to focus more on building a unique company culture. They can integrate the various positive aspects of different cultures to develop a homogenous culture at the workplace that seems familiar yet distinct to every individual employee.

The rewards and recognition program should then be developed according to the philosophies of this workplace culture rather than the individual cultural background of each employee. This is also an effective way to instil a deep sense of camaraderie and teamwork between the members of the workforce.


The rapid globalization of businesses has necessitated the growth of a multi-cultural workforce even within small and medium level organizations. Keeping this workforce happy and motivated can be a tough task unless companies choose a reward program based on these principles.

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