Managing effectively in the diverse UN work environment

When we think of the "diversity" concept in a workplace, we often think of cross-cultural differences first.  While these are important, and especially prevalent in the UN environment, attention to diversity also means considering the perspectives that come from different genders, races, religions, sexual orientations and mental/physical difficulties and characteristics. 
In recent years scholars and experts have studied how the most productive multi-cultural teams manage differences in work settings. See some tips below.

  • Enrol in diversity training developed by UN for All, an inter-agency training initiative. Encourage your staff to enrol as well. There are four half-day learning modules that cover basic human rights principles and how they translate into diversity and inclusion practices in the workplace. They also raise awareness about sexual orientation and gender identity, disabilities, mental health and substance abuse. 

    Click here for more information. 

  • Show support for a diverse, inclusive workplace in small but important ways - such as using respectful language when referring to various groups and displaying supportive signs or posters in your office.  UN for All has created resources to help: 

    Click here to access resources on inclusive language. 
    Click here to access small, downloadable posters.

  • Learn about yourself and your biases

    As a manager, willingness to learn about your personality type can help you become more self-aware and engage more easily with your peers and team members. And willingness to examine your possible biases is a critical step toward learning about the roots of stereotypes and prejudice and how to avoid acting on them.  Try some of the tools below to learn about yourself and your biases.

    • MBTI personality test
      This free test is based on a typological approach created by psychologists Carl Jung and Isabel Briggs Myers. It is based on the theory that there are four principal psychological functions by which humans experience the world – sensation, intuition, feeling and thinking – and that one of these four functions in dominant for a person most of the time.
    • Project Implicit test on social attitudes
      This test measures attitudes and beliefs that people may be unwilling or unable to report. Try it to discover your implicit association about race,  gender, sexual orientation and other topics.
  • Watch these videos about unconscious bias

    • The McGurk Effect – useful insight from the British Broadcasting Company (BBC) into how our minds work, and the bias between our senses.
    • Excerpt from the American TV show “What would do?” that exposes biases about race and gender
  • Review actions you can take in your office (developed for a United States audience) 

  • Read about generational differences
  • Check out resources on diversity at

Conflict Prevention and Resolution

We work in a large organization with a staff diverse in culture and function, dispersed over many countries across the globe. It is to be expected that some tensions will exist at times and disagreements will occur. Keeping our goal uppermost – a harmonious workplace – managers must act for prevention and quick resolution.

What you can do: Make sure that you and all of your team members have completed the e-learning programme, Prevention of Sexual Harassment and Abuse by United Nations Personnel - Working Harmoniously.  
Manager’s checklist to prevent and handle common work place issues
Know the policies and how they apply to the different members of your team.

Sometimes misunderstanding of how policy applies in different situations or conditions can cause friction. Your team members will likely be made up of different categories of staff with different types of contracts, and therefore differences in benefits and allowances. The HR Factsheets are a good starting point for clarifying details. Invite staff to sit with you and look up the HR Factsheet to address an issue of concern pertaining to benefits and allowances.

Stay aware of what is going on among the staff 

Keep attuned to changes in the tone or manner of people toward each other, as well as verbal interactions. If people seem reluctant to interact with each other or if what were easy, warm interactions have become strained, observe more closely. Your instinct may be to let people find their way with the problem, but if more than a few days go by and the persons do not seem to have worked it out, sit down and discuss it with those involved, perhaps first individually and then together.

Act right away and transparently 

Whenever a staff member approaches you with what you know or suspect to be a problem related to inappropriate behaviour, your first responsibility is to sit down and discuss it with them in a timely manner and to treat the issue as a priority. If the staff member sees that you’re taking the problem seriously, you stand a better chance of resolving it. You need to have the initial conversation within 24 hours of the staff member approaching you. Focus your attention on the staff member, not distracted by checking e-mail, gazing at the work on your desk, or answering the phone. If the person seems reluctant to talk, use words that encourage them to speak: “I know this must be a difficult situation, but I need to understand what happened in order to help”.


Keep a neutral expression, not showing your own feelings about the issues or complainant; do not judge what happened or express your opinion or reaction. Listen actively and respectfully to the complaint. Be empathetic (“I see”), not sympathetic (“I agree”).  Don’t take sides, offer personal opinions or speculate on the facts. Once you have the facts, then you will be in a position to make a managerial judgment about the situation.


Take careful notes for your own records. Put only exact statements in direct quotes. Suggest that the complainant keep notes and any material evidence, such as e-mail or letters.


Don’t give your personal opinion or advice. If you are not sure what the process should be for the situation, say so, and that you will seek advice from the appropriate authority. If you are uncertain about how to proceed, check the policy and seek advice from your supervisor, HR officer, Ethics Office, or the Ombudsman’s Office, depending on the nature of the issue.


Otherwise, let the person know what the next steps need to be, and their options as well as resources for them to get advice and support (e.g., Staff Counsellor). Promise to respect confidentiality as much as possible, but make it clear you are required to respond to the situation and that some procedures foreseen in the organisation’s policy make it necessary that other people on a “need to know” basis will be informed. Do promise to act quickly.

Getting help with Informal and formal conflict resolution

The Organization's resources for staff members and managers can be found at the bottom of this page.

Commitment to the UN: Fostering the sense of honour to serve

Keep your staff grounded in the larger mission of the UN as well as its many accomplishments by encouraging them to know what is going on in the present as well as the highlights of the 70 years of UN history, as a way of continuously re-igniting their pride in serving. Some suggested actions:

  • At the major duty stations, make sure everyone on your team has taken the tour. If staff members travel to HQ, see if they can make time for a tour. Going into the Security Council chamber, or sitting in the General Assembly amidst the visitors who are usually quietly awed, can renew one’s personal pride. If going to HQ is not possible, go online for the virtual tour. The UN You Tube channel is a great source for short videos that highlight milestones in UN history and important current events.
  • Talk together about what it means to serve, reflecting on how serving in the UN is different from other types of jobs. Hear from each other what individuals find particularly inspiring. A good starter question: at the end of your career in the UN, what would you like to be remembered for?
  • Ask everyone to stay aware of the UN operations in the field, other job networks, and duty stations, and devote a short time once or twice a month in team meetings to discussion of the issues and actions at the top of the UN agenda. This is especially important if the work of your team is a bit removed from the more publicly visible areas of the UN’s work.
  • Acknowledge that getting things done in the UN can be challenging and, at times, frustrating, and bring the team’s focus back to purpose. Your role is to keep the team inoculated against detracting and distracting commentary – never engage in this yourself as it is incompatible with serving as a UN manager – and if a staff member does so, have a private conversation to understand where the person’s dissatisfaction is coming from.

Motivating and inspiring staff 

One of the most important things to remember as a manager is that the things you say and do affect others directly. Think carefully about the effect you want to have, and guide your behaviour accordingly. It’s true that individuals make their own choices about how much they will invest themselves in their job, but as a manager, you have daily influence over those decisions. Use it wisely and in a motivating way. Some tips:

  • Enthusiasm for the work is contagious. You have to find the goals compelling and convey your dedication to the purpose through your actions (going the extra mile) and words (talking about why it matters).
  • Be polite. Know people’s names, and use them. Sounds obvious – but frequently overlooked.
  • Ask, rather than tell, your staff what is needed, in a respectful tone.
  • Thank them for the every-day things and praise them for the accomplishments.
  • When things go wrong, motivation is most at risk – preserve an individual’s self-esteem by taking the problem solving approach and counsel in private to get people back on track.
  • Read a classic management article by Frederick Herzberg, One More Time: How Do You Motivate Employees? Originally published in The Harvard Business Review to illustrate his research done in the mid-20th century, and re-published in 2003 because motivation continues to be a top concern of managers in all types of workplaces.

Staff Well-being

Staff members serve in many types of work settings and at time encounter situations that challenge emotional and physical well-being, in addition to the stresses of personal and family life. As a manager, be aware of what is available to respond to these needs and challenges.

  • Work-life support
    Flexible working arrangements (FWA) 
    Managers may make the decision to use flexible working arrangements (FWA) as a tool to enhance productivity and efficiency as well as provide flexibility to staff.

    > Go to the FWA page on the HR Portal. 
    Support for pregnancy and breastfeeding 
    Be aware of the policy and support in place for staff who are welcoming new members of their families.

    > Go to the Support for Pregnancy and Breastfeeding page on the HR Portal. 
    Family leave, maternity leave and paternity leave 
    Staff members will request you to authorize use of their family, maternity and paternity leave benefits.

    > Go to the Work + Life Events page on the HR Portal to review the HR Factsheets for types of leave. 

  • Preventing burnout and psychological support for staff
    The Staff Counsellor’s Office helps staff to build awareness and specific skills for handling the effects of stressful events and factors, as well as personal, individual help for staff members needing immediate help.  
    > Go to the Mental Wellbeing/Psychosocial Support page on the HR Portal  
  • Handling staff emergencies and critical incidents 
    As a manager, you may find yourself responsible for maintaining operations and supporting your staff members after disasters, kidnappings, civil conflicts and other crises. While their primary needs with be tangible (i.e. food clothing, shelter), understanding their psychosocial needs is also essential.

    > Open the Leadership in Emergencies Toolkit to be prepared to lead a team during times of extreme stress. 

  • Safety in the workplace 
    Emergency contacts and evacuation procedures 
    All staff should be aware of basic safety information such as the evacuation procedures for their building and the phone numbers to call in case of a fire or other type of emergency. As a manager, it is especially important for you to know this information as it may help your staff stay calm in an emergency. Consult iSeek and the duty station intranet for the safety and security procedures in place for your location.  
    Emergency preparedness planning 
    Every staff member should have current emergency contact information on file as well as other arrangements in place ‘just in case.’  
    >Go to the Emergency Preparedness Planning page page in the HR Portal  
    Workplace safety 
    Ensure that you periodically review with staff the general workplace safety guidelines at your duty station. Check iSeek and on your duty station’s intranet for this information or with your security office. For issues related to the work facilities 
    >Go to the Ergonomics and Environmental Health Concerns page page in the HR Portal.  
    Workplace Violence 
    Workplace violence is any act or threat of physical violence, harassment, intimidation or other threatening disruptive behaviour that occurs at a work site. All staff, including managers, should be familiar with the precautions to take if there is a violent incident in your office. A self-paced online learning programme on this topic is available by logging into inspira  (Self Service>Learning>My Learning>Search: Workplace Violence).

Managing Self

Emotional intelligence and the manager’s role

There has been a great deal of interest in and discussion about emotional intelligence—the concept and the practice—since publication of the book about ‘EQ’ by Daniel Goleman. Goleman expands on EQ’s role in being a successful manager in an article in The Harvard Business Review
> Open the article What Makes a Leader?

Emotionally intelligent behaviours of managers 

Open an article with strategies for managers to develop better self-management and a self-management assessment 

Behaviours in a manager that indicate emotional intelligence

  • Controls one’s emotions effectively and regulate one’s interpersonal style to relate well to others even in difficult work environments
  • Empathizes with and understands the perspectives of others and handles people and situations with diplomacy and tact
  • Consciously adapts one’s own management behaviour, recognising the impact of one’s style on the team, and working to eliminate any negative behaviours
  • Manages changing situations effectively, working to reduce ambiguity for staff, and modelling resilience and flexibility when faced with pressure and challenging situations
  • Proactively seeks out feedback from above, from peers, and from staff, reflecting on it to identify how to strengthen one’s leadership, taking on the developmental effort.
  • Resolves conflicts constructively, and takes action to prevent them
  • Stays productive and focused when dealing with crises and emergencies
  • Able to operate effectively in changing and evolving situations
  • Recognizes the impact of own management style within the team, and works to eliminate any negative behaviours to build skill as a manager
  • Recognizes, openly admits to, and works to overcome, own mistakes or inappropriate behaviour
  • Behaves consistently and equally towards all team members at all times