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Dealing with xenophobia in the workplace

Since the Brexit referendum, studies have emerged highlighting an increase in racism and xenophobic behaviour in the UK. 

One such study found that people may be less explicit about racist and xenophobia remarks, but employers are still refusing to consider people for jobs simply because of their background. In these cases, it’s not your skills, talent or effort that counts, but your race or ethnicity. Research led by Professor Anthony Heath from Nuffield College, Oxford, found that minority ethnic applicants have to send in around 60% more CVs just to get a job interview .

What is Xenophobia 

Xenophobia is a dislike or prejudice towards people from countries other than your own, manifested as a fear or hatred of things that are perceived as ‘foreign’ or ‘strange’. Usually referring to an individual’s nationality and culture, xenophobia often comes hand-in-hand with racism. 

Xenophobia is a serious offence and can manifest itself in a number of ways in the office.  It’s deeply offensive, greatly affects company culture and it’s vital for employers to learn how to respond to, and effectively deal with xenophobic bullying as quickly and appropriately as possible. 

How to manage complaints of xenophobia in the workplace

Employees should be treated with respect and consideration at work and employers have a legal responsibility to investigate and respond to complaints of xenophobia so that they can ensure all employees are being treated fairly.

With all this in mind, here are some key points on how to manage xenophobic behaviour in the workplace: 

  • Have a zero-tolerance policy – make sure it’s known that there will be no tolerance for any xenophobic or discriminatory behaviour from employees and external clients 
  • Provide support for affected staff – always investigate any complaints thoroughly and remain empathetic and respectful 
  • Resolve the matter quickly and carefully so all parties feel comfortable to be in the work environment together and so that it does not continue to be an issue
  • Create a safe space – this allows for an inclusive environment where individuals feel safe to raise any issues they may have which is essential. Feeling unable to voice these concerns creates a sense of vulnerability and isolation among those who may be suffering from discrimination. Making sure there is an environment where discussions can be had between leaders and their team members not only builds stronger bonds of trust, it also increases levels of understanding and communication  

Employers should be mindful to manage cultural differences in the office and should have a general understanding of religious and cultural differences and put measures in place to prevent any conflict surrounding issues which may arise. 

Any form of discrimination can affect team morale and the atmosphere in the office, and the knock-on effect of this impacts everyone. Remember the process of reporting xenophobic bullying can be daunting, so checking in with colleagues to make sure they are feeling ok throughout the process is important. Be aware of how they’re feeling and offer support and show camaraderie. 

Examples of xenophobic bullying in the workplace 

Below are examples of xenophobia in the workplace and what to look out for; 

  • Saying rude or hurtful things about another individual’s culture 
  • Mocking someone’s nationality, accent, or culture
  • Prejudice assumption and statements about a person based on their country of origin
  • Excluding individuals from conversations or events because of their nationality 
  • Making comments both in the office or online which could be construed as hateful towards a country or nationality 
  • Trying to pass off hurtful comments about other’s culture as a ‘joke’. 

Tackling discrimination and xenophobia in the workplace is crucial and understanding what to do and how to report it can help to prevent any further issues from developing. 

If you feel that you’re suffering from any form of discrimination in the workplace you should report it immediately. Living in a multicultural society should be celebrated and everyone should be respected and treated fairly, as should their culture.

The most important point to remember is that if you are experiencing any form of xenophobia, the problem is not you, and sharing the problem and reporting it will not only make you feel less targeted but will help diminish the chances of it happening to someone else.


Contributed by CABA

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