The British Council has released a new study regarding the role of intercultural skills in the workplace. The paper, entitled Culture at Work: The Value of Intercultural Skills in the Workplace, can be downloaded for free by clicking here.

To provide a preview, the report’s executive summary is included below:

The modern workplace is increasingly globalised and competitive. Communicating with customers, colleagues and partners across international borders is now an everyday occurrence for many workers around the world. Consequently, employers are under strong pressure to find employees who are not only technically proficient, but also culturally astute and able to thrive in a global work environment.

The research shows that there is real business value in employing staff who have the ability to work effectively with individuals and organisations from cultural backgrounds different from their own. 

In particular, employers highlight the following as important intercultural skills: the ability to understand different cultural contexts and viewpoints; demonstrating respect for others; [and] knowledge of a foreign language.

Employees with these skills are seen to benefit organisations through their ability to bring in new clients; work within diverse teams; [and] support a good brand and reputation for their organisation.

Conversely, employees who lack these skills may leave their organisations susceptible to risks including loss of clients; damage to reputation; conflict within teams.

While few employers report actively screening for intercultural skills, they do actively observe candidate behaviour in order to identify attributes closely associated with these skills. Employers look for the following in job candidates demonstrating strong communication skills; speaking a foreign language; showing cultural sensitivity.

Most employers report encouraging their staff to develop intercultural skills through in-house training, meetings and events. However, employers also say that educational institutions could do more to equip students with intercultural skills.

The findings suggest that policy makers and education providers could do more to contribute to the development of a workforce with the necessary intercultural skills through interventions, such as prioritising teaching communication skills; offering foreign language classes; availability of opportunities for students to gain international experience; [and] development of international research partnerships.

The research implies that employers would benefit from formalising and improving the ways in which job candidates’ intercultural skills are assessed through the recruitment process.

For job seekers the research findings suggest that they must pay attention to the intercultural skills needed by employers. Job seekers would also benefit from presenting evidence of strong communication skills, foreign language abilities and international experiences when competing for jobs.