5 Lessons College Teaches about Tolerance in the Workplace

Tolerance in the Workplace: People collaborating in the office

It’s pretty much a given.

In college, coeds from towns with one stoplight get thrown into the mix with metropolitan and international students, and interesting conversations ensue (“Whoa! You don’t even have a Target in your area?”).

Because college is a hodgepodge of backgrounds, it often instills in students an appreciation for those that are different from them, especially since students are forced to interact, collaborate, and even live with people unique from them. And while the situation only lasts four years, the sense of tolerance students gain can be taken with them to the workplace post-graduation.

Here are 5 Things College Teaches about Tolerance in the Workplace:

1. How to Recognize Cultural Differences
For many students, college is the first time in their lives where they are away from home, fully immersed in a new environment. Often, this environment contains students from all walks of life and backgrounds, and some students may be paired up in class projects and living arrangements with people they otherwise wouldn’t encounter.

The same goes for the workplace. Once you get a job, you will be working with people from different upbringings and nationalities that you may not otherwise come in contact with. Like having a roommate in college, in the office you may share a work space with someone dissimilar from you, and because you had a similar situation in college, you’re prepared with how to interact.

2. How to Work with Different Age Groups
In high school, most classes consist of people in the same class year. This changes in college. Students of all years get thrown together in courses, buildings, and departments. The teacher-student relationship is different in college, too, with professors often inviting classes over to their houses or hanging out over lunch.

When students enter the workforce, they will be working with people of all ages (some old enough to be their parents!), so college prepares students to interact with people from different age groups and even different generations.

3. How to Adapt to Unique Work Styles
Roommate and housing situations can be stressful, especially when one student is trying to do his or her homework and the other wants to play loud music. However, these situations can also teach students how to work around each other and respect each other’s space.

Some workplace atmospheres are pretty open, with groups collaborating on projects while others are quietly working on their own undertakings. While being able to accommodate to unique circumstances is a trait that can especially be honed in college, it can be further developed and beneficial in any office environment, too.

4. How to Collaborate on Projects
In college classes, some professors will assign group projects. Often one student steps up as a leader, dictating when the group meets, what goes on, and what should be done. Other students within the group may pick up the slack, support the leader, simply do the required work, or fail to show up at all.

Being able to work with different personalities on big projects is a very valuable skill in the workplace, especially for those thinking about managing positions. College projects give people a glimpse at what workplace collaboration will be like, possibly shedding light on personal issues or plights related to other group members. Sometimes, you can’t help who you work with, so knowing how to get the right completed work from someone (even yourself) may take finesse and patience.

5. How to Interact with Authority Figures
During K-12 years, there’s a distinct relationship between students and teachers, but during college, that changes. While professors do not become equals to students, they often form more of a mentor relationship, acting as career advisers and references. Students work with them on more of an adult-to-adult level, with relaxed formalities.

The student-professor relationship teaches students how to relate to authority figures in the business world and how to talk with these figures as people rather than enforcers. While bosses and work mentors can teach young people a lot about how an organization or career works, new college graduates don’t need to have their hands held through the process as they would when they were younger. They, too, are adults in the work environment.

The Bottom Line
College prepares students for the workplace in a lot of ways, but what it teaches students about tolerance and working with different groups of people can be especially valuable when it comes to post-graduation office environments.