Cultural Competence: A Manager’s Duty of Care.

1. 4. 2021

Managers have a duty of care to their employees to ensure a psychologically safe environment, psychological safety is where employees feel included and able to participate without fear of retaliation or negativity towards them. A psychologically safe environment means that the organizational culture cannot hold any bias towards an employee. An organizational culture is shaped by the employee and therefore employees can positively or negatively affect the organizations success, the employee can either align with the organizations vison and mission or be against it. Managers who are culturally competent can create a psychologically safe environment for their employees. It is the organizations responsibility to provide the right environment for employees to feel motivated and productive (Mullins, 2016). A psychologically safe environment fosters engagement, and promotes a strong psychological contract between the employee to the employer, and it also reduces the potential for employee social pain. When managers are culturally incompetent it can have a negative effect on the business because employees can become disengaged. When managers are not culturally competent their communication may be deemed as undesirable with other cultures who may see the communication as rude or disrespectful, this creates miscommunication, and disruption, however, the manager is unaware of this negative effect. When managers are culturally incompetent and engage with customers they may damage the business reputation, this is because they are not aware of how to best communicate with the culture they are working with. Disengaged employees are a risk to the business because they become less productive and often negative and disruptive. This paper examines how managers have a duty of care to foster an engaged and psychologically safe workforce that in turn benefits the success of the organization. This paper describes how managers leading across multicultural organizations are culturally incompetent. This paper provides some evidence that shows managers agree that when managing across multicultural organizations they need to be culturally competent. The aim of this paper is to provide managers with the awareness to understand and recognize they may need to close their gap of cultural incompetence.


As organizations look to increase their footprint across their industry and remain competitive, their globalization efforts have led to increased borderless growth. Managers need to be set up with understanding the need for cultural awareness, and especially where managers are frequently working across different time zones, cultures and languages. It is essential for organizations to understand the challenges that managers encounter in today’s multicultural settings, and managers need to sort their cultural competence when working across borders (Dziatzko, 2017).

That is all very well, but the manager must first realize that they may be culturally incompetent, Hofstede (2010) suggests that we must learn to gain cultural competence, we are all culturally incompetent.

So what is culture? Culture is who we are, it is our behaviors, values and attitudes. Ritson (2019) suggests that within organizations employees identify with the culture in the organization, and also that organizational culture is shaped by the employee.

Because culture has the ability to adapt to change, organizations must be receptive to change (Chatman and Cha, 2002), organizations need to understand that the culture can change, and so organizations need to be receptive to align the organizational strategy, core values and goals with the organizational culture in mind. If employees are the culture of the organization, it is then important employees feel included in any strategy that may affect them, for the success of any organizational change,the change management needs to involve the employees (Wall, 2020b).

Organizations are at risk if managers continue to lead when they are culturally incompetent, cultural incompetence happens when there are no shared values, it causes negativity and cultural disturbance (Robbins, 2003).  Robbins (2003) goes on to suggest cultural noise is different understandings of messages and some that may not be translatable.

This can pose a risk to organizations because cultural noise can disrupt the communication and the message may mean something completely different to that which was originally intended, it may be misunderstood by the recipient. Misunderstood messages could be disrespectful or embarrassing to the recipient, and of which could be a customer or an employee.

Cultural incompetence can also disengage employees. When an employee feels connected to an organizations mission and purpose they are engaged (Wall, 2020a). Engagement in the workplace brings inclusion (Harter, 2020), and engaged employees increases the success of the business, it increases production and it lowers turnover (Kappel, 2018).Ganapathi (2013) suggests that cross cultural awareness will be sustaining for the business and a driver for the reputation of the organization.

Cultural incompetence can undermine organizational performance (Aghina et al, 2014).

We can see then that disengaged employees are a risk to the business, and that managers working across multicultural organizations need to close their cultural incompetence gaps to ensure risks of cultural disturbance and cultural noise are mitigated, and that managers foster an environment for engaged employees.

To successfully communicate in a multicultural environment amanager need to be culturally aware (Chen and Starosta, 2016). Recent research, (research was conducted across a global multicultural organization), found that over 70% of managers that are managing teams across global locations are culturally incompetent (Wall, 2020a).

Gallup (2020) reported that there is a downward trend of engagement from an all-time high, although there is no concrete evidence that employee engagement is correlated with cultural awareness, we do know that cultural incompetence can be of detriment to an employee’s engagement and tothat of the business health.

Organizations need to invest more in their managers to support cultural awareness training to allow managers to close their gaps and ensure an inclusive environment where employees feel engaged and psychologically safe.

Graph 1 below shows that 60% of managers that were interviewed confirmed that their organization had paid for their further training, of the 40% that said their organization did not pay for their further training, it was mostly because they arrived in the organization with the training. The training was related to external courses.

This shows that organizations are actually willing to pay for employees to get engaged with further training and education. However, organizations may not be doing enough to support managers in recognizing they may have a need for cultural awareness in the first place.



Graph 1. Training that was, or was not, sponsored by the organization. Adapted from: Wall, S. E., (2020). A Strategy for Developing Leaders in a Multicultural Organization. Doctorate Dissertation Thesis. LIGS University, Hawaii.

Graph one above represents the results from managers working in a multicultural global organization who were interviewed to ascertain whether they had received further education and training which was through the organization, and if so whether the training was sponsored and paid for by the organization. The results show that organizations do sponsor employee further training and education, for outside courses this is mainly driven by the employee identifying that they have the need, or that the training is of relevance to their core duties.

So where is the disconnect between the organization and the manager for closing the cultural incompetence gaps? 76% of managers agree that managing a team in a global organization requires the manager to be culturally competent (Wall, 2020a), see table one below. Organizational complacency may play a part, organizations need to wake up to their responsibility for providing managers with the tools to become culturally competent, however as we have also seen managers need to step up and educate themselves, recognize that they do have a duty of care to their employees to ensure a psychologically safe environment, and one that fosters engagement within. Part of this duty is to become culturally aware. As we have seen, mangers need to take care of their own cultural incompetence, but they need to first recognize that they are culturally unaware. 

Leadership Training Needed


Business acumen


Change management




Communication style


Cultural training


Employment law




Financial awareness


Gender awareness


Generation awareness




Leadership style




Power source awareness




Strategic thinking


Table 1. Percentage of managers that indicated leaders should have training in the topics. Adapted from: Wall, S. E., (2020). A Strategy for Developing Leaders in a Multicultural Organization. Doctorate Dissertation Thesis. LIGS University, Hawaii.

Table one above represents the results from managers working in a multicultural global organization who agreed to be interviewed regarding cultural competence, and were asked to name what training topics would they feel essential to be trained in. Cultural training was the highest percentage, and where 76% of the participants identified the training topic for culture awareness as the most important.

Table one shows 70% of managers indicated that they did not have any cultural awareness training, and over 75% of managers indicated that cultural awareness was a core training topic that should be included as a core subject. The interviews that took place were based on developing leaders in a multicultural organization, the 70% of managers that identified as culturally incompetent now have the opportunity to close those gaps, especially as the majority identified that culture awareness should be a core training topic.


Managers need to recognize their cultural incompetence and work towards being culturally competent, managers also have a duty of care to elicit a psychologically safe environment for their employees, this in turn creates an engaged workforce that will drive the business outcomes.

Organizations need to create the right environments for managers to close their gaps with cultural awareness. 

Organizations that ignore their responsibilities supporting their managers may find that their organizational culture suffers, an organization is more effective when culture is aligned with organizational goals and values (Ritson, 2019). Organizations are willing to support managers in further training and education by sponsoring and paying for courses.

Managers that are culturally aware are able to foster environments for high engagement from employees, this achieves greater production and general overall satisfaction both from an employee and customer.

1. Managers leading teams across global organizations are often culturally incompetent.

Over 70% of managers that were interviewed in a global organization identified themselves as culturally incompetent. These managers were working across a multicultural global organization.

2. Managers agree that when managing a team across a multi-cultural organization it requires a manager to be culturally competent.

Over 75% of managers that were interviewed agreed that when managing multicultural teams, it required the manager to be culturally competent.

3. Managers need to close their gaps of cultural incompetence to foster an engaged psychologically safe environment.

Cultural awareness makes organizations stronger by way of a foundation to understanding different cultural normal (Wall, 2020a), this allows managers to fit and support their diverse workforce and communicate with no cultural noise or miscommunication. With an open and safe environment employees are more engaged in their workplace activities. Cultural incompetence can lead to disengaged teams.


Author: Sarah E. Wall


Bibliography :

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Wall, S. E., (2020b). Change Management has a Critical Role in Automation. LIGS University, Hawaii.

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