Connecting Through Culture: 6 Healthy Ways to Celebrate APIDA Diversity in Your Workplace

As we kick off APIDA Heritage Month, these wellness activities can help you and your teams embrace APIDA culture in the workplace.

Written by
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Sherry Yam, LCSW
Spring Health Provider
Clinically reviewed by
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    The Asian Pacific Islander Desi American (APIDA) community is a diverse and rapidly growing population in the United States. It consists of more than 25.7 million people from over 40 countries, who speak over 100 languages and have countless cultural perspectives to offer. 

    By celebrating this diversity, workplaces can tap into the unique strengths of this community, fostering an environment that values different communication styles and encourages learning from a multitude of perspectives.

    As we celebrate APIDA Heritage Month, I’d like to invite organizations to explore wellness activities that can help them embrace APIDA culture in the workplace. But first, let’s develop a deeper understanding of some of the differences, to foster an inclusive, supportive culture.  

    Encouraging effective communication by embracing a diversity of talents 

    As our workforce becomes more globally connected, there will be an increase in foreign professionals contributing to the expansion of our workforce capacity. 

    Many Eastern countries adopt high-context communication styles, compared to the low-context communication common in the United States. It’s important to understand the differences. 

    High-context communication places more emphasis on indirect cues, rather than solely on the words being spoken. The listener must combine both the speakers’ spoken communication and nonverbal behaviors to get the full meaning of the message. 

    Before speaking, employees from APIDA cultures might choose their words very carefully, to avoid pointing out flaws or upsetting or offending others—while protecting their image at the same time. Oftentimes, decisions are made based on hierarchical relationships. 

    On the other hand, in low-context communication, direct communication is preferred and respected at most levels of the organization. Western communication tends to value logic, facts, and straightforwardness. 

    Both low- and high-context communication cultures have their pros and cons. In a work setting, it’s important to develop communication flexibility to effectively embrace all cultures, ensuring that our ideas and needs are communicated clearly and efficiently.

    Here are two ways to create a safe space that encourages APIDA team members to share their ideas.

    Host an APIDA diversity presentation 

    Invite an APIDA leader or DEI consultant to share a presentation to promote APIDA education, foster cultural understanding, and build a more supportive workplace. 

    By focusing on topics like emotional health, mental health stigma, and cultural and communication differences, you can help employees gain a deeper appreciation of the diverse experiences and perspectives of their peers. 

    Invite APIDAs to show and tell 

    Ask your APIDA employees to share parts of their cultures that reflect the diverse identities and experiences that have shaped and inspired them. 

    This can be through photos, recipes, art, or music—something they listened to at a specific time in their life, musical traditions that have influenced them, instruments related to their ethnic heritage or country of origin, or lyrics that recognize other aspects of diversity.

    With remote work becoming more common, tools like Kudoboard make it easy for teams to share their experiences from a distance. Spotify and YouTube offer a simple way to curate playlists with different types of music and sounds.

    Understanding and reducing mental health stigma

    Mental health stigma is a pervasive challenge that affects many APIDAs. 

    While therapy can provide valuable support, cultural barriers may make it challenging to ask for that support. The mere mention of emotions can be taboo in some cultures, and many individuals lack the skills to manage stress effectively. 

    Taking care of our emotional health is much like taking care of our physical health. When our emotional health doesn't get adequate care, we can find ourselves struggling with day-to-day tasks. When we’re emotionally healthy, it allows for better communication, both at work and at home.

    Spotlight mental health resources

    If many of your employees come into the office or workplace, set up a table with APIDA resources and a curated playlist in the background to create a welcoming atmosphere. Offer information on therapy, coaching, and other wellness benefits available to them. 

    If most or even some of your employees are working remotely, share these resources through a dedicated Slack channel or email as well. 

    Many likely aren’t aware that your organization offers these resources, or may think they're only available for severe mental health issues. However, even everyday stressors like a breakup, homesickness, or unprocessed grief can impact job performance and quality of life. 

    It’s important to share with employees that getting support doesn’t require severe depression or panic attacks. By learning how to manage smaller stressors early, we can prevent long-term mood disorders and improve overall wellbeing. 

    Breaking down mental health stigma is not only vital for individual wellbeing, but also for the health and productivity of the entire organization. By promoting open dialogue and valuing mental wellness, we can cultivate a more supportive and inclusive workplace where everyone, from any culture or heritage, can thrive.

    3 ways to explore APIDA wellness traditions

    The APIDA community has a vibrant tapestry of cultural traditions, including a multitude of health and wellness practices—some of which are centuries old. 

    From sharing healthy food to trying tai chi and meditation, Eastern wellbeing practices can give us creative ways to approach our health and wellness. 

    Here are three activities to try that can promote a healthier, happier workplace for all. 

    Host a healthy potluck

    Invite your employees to a potluck feast featuring dishes from different APIDA regions. Sharing food is a great way to connect with colleagues and explore new flavors and traditions. 

    Plus, what we put into our bodies is essential for our emotional health and overall wellbeing, so this is a great opportunity to weave in education around nutrition. 

    By choosing foods that nourish rather than harm our bodies, we can help reduce pain and inflammation, manage weight, increase gut health, reduce symptoms of disease, boost immunity, improve sleep, and more. 

    Try a new type of exercise

    Consider motivating your employees to move their bodies in a way that celebrates APIDA heritage. This could be through activities like ethnic dance, yoga, table tennis, or simple (and safe) martial arts moves, or something gentler like walking while discussing culture, or planting a beloved APIDA flower or herb. 

    It's important to practice being mindful and gentle with our bodies, and only attempt exercises within our limits.

    Practice mindfulness

    Have someone lead a mindfulness activity from an APIDA culture that is inclusive of all ages and abilities in your workplace. This could be tai chi, chi gong, meditation, or another practice that promotes a sense of calm and emotional wellbeing. 

    Studies have shown that mindfulness practices can reduce stress, anxiety, and depression while also increasing focus, creativity, and productivity. Meditation has even been found to improve memory and other measurable positive brain changes in just eight weeks. 

    Ensure that any mindful movement exercises can be modified for anyone with disabilities or injuries. 

    Becoming a true ally for APIDA employees

    I encourage you to try out these activities to celebrate the richness of APIDA culture in your workplace, and to create a more inclusive environment that promotes wellbeing for all your employees.

    Learn more about how to become a true ally for APIDA employees, by understanding the model minority myth, what it’s like to live with the “outsider” lens, and the harm that can be done by the “bamboo ceiling.”

    About the Author
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    Sherry Yam, LCSW
    Spring Health Provider

    Sherry is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker in California and a Spring Health provider. She specializes in working with Asian Americans and foreign professionals through EMDR therapy, and has a passion for fostering mental health provider diversity and retention. Sherry is a national consultant at the Department of Veteran Affairs, and trains therapists to deliver trauma-informed evidence-based treatment for AAPI Veterans. When she’s not teaching, she researches and develops effective virtual training for therapists to deliver trauma treatment for Veterans. She also practices EMDR therapy to better support AAPI Veterans and bridge the gaps in diverse mental health workforces.

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