In 1992, while touring Australia, former President George H.W. Bush flashed the peace sign to some farmers. What he didn't realize was that in Australia, his well-intentioned message was the equivalent of giving the finger.
President Bush's mistake makes for a funny anecdote, but in the workplace, a similar kind of cultural faux pas could lead to far more serious implications.
The world is shrinking. Companies not only hire foreign employees, but they also work with more colleagues abroad. As a result, management needs to be culturally sensitive and aware of the subtle differences in the way people of different nationalities interpret words and gestures.
Companies need to create an environment that's understanding of, and sensitive to, the needs of all their employees, no matter what their culture or religion. That includes providing kosher or vegetarian options in the cafeteria, allowing employees to take time off for religious holidays, and providing sensitivity training to help staff members gain a better understanding of and appreciation for all of their co-workers.