Understanding Cultural Safety in the Workplace

Mental Health

Workers sitting at a table during a meeting and celebrating their success as a team.

Many Australian workers have a reasonable understanding of physical health and safety issues within their workplace. Some will have a good grasp of what makes an emotionally safe workplace, but not as many truly understand what makes a socially safe one.

What is Cultural Safety? 

According to SafeWork NSW, a culturally safe workplace has a defined set of values and principles, and demonstrates behaviours, attitudes, policies, and structures that enable all employees to work effectively. In a culturally safe workplace, all workers, clients and visitors feel comfortable, supported and respected.

A culturally safe workplace provides all workers with a workplace that has:

  • Respectful communication.

  • Two-way dialogue.

  • An environment that values all contributions.

  • Recognition and avoidance of stereotypical barriers.

  • Shared knowledge.

Who Benefits from Culturally Safe Workplaces? 

It is just as important that individuals accessing a service feel safe in terms of having their cultural values and preferences taken into account. People from indigenous or minority cultural groups have experienced their cultural identity, beliefs, and lifestyles denigrated by service providers. Whether the denigration is conscious or not, it can result in the individual not using the same and other service providers in future, as well as feelings of low self-worth, disappointment and anger.

Many workers believe that cultural safety in the workplace exists to protect people who have a non-English speaking background or are Indigenous. However, the benefits are far more wide-reaching. People who visit or do business with an organisation should feel respected and nurtured, whatever their cultural identity may be.

Whether it’s one employee or many who are at risk of a culturally insensitive workplace, it’s important that all employees understand the importance and practices of cultural safety.

Elements of Culturally Safe Workplaces

All workers should offer value-free, respectful communications. Trust between colleagues or staff members and visitors can be eroded if an employee communicates their own values rather than recognise that not everyone shares their same set of values.

A culturally safe organisation is able to identify the needs of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander employees and visitors because it’s well connected to the local Aboriginal community and it can respond to their needs.

Systems within an organisation may need to be redesigned to reduce unconscious bias, racism, and discrimination. If everyone is aware of their cultural values and attitudes, as well as how this can affect others, it can also help in addressing issues such as discrimination and racism.

Not Sure if Your Workplace is Culturally Safe?

Many employers and managers in Australia believe their workplace is culturally safe, but in fact it misses the mark. They don’t see the subtle indicators that point to the organisation being culturally insensitive. It often takes an expert in the field to come into an organisation to highlight areas that can be improved.

However, it’s not just the management team that is responsible for providing a culturally safe workplace, it’s everyone’s responsibility. Some organisations benefit from training that all employees can complete in order to make them more aware of making sure the organisation is safe for everyone. A physical and psychological workplace assessment identifies issues an individual worker may face and provides strategies for managing the situation.

If you’re interested in an assessment or training, please contact PeopleSense by Altius Group on 1800 258 487 or get in contact online.

Category: Mental Health