How Well Do You Connect with Your Multilingual Workforce?

July 26, 2018 By Julie Kramer - Leave a comment

shutterstock_126827531One of the largest growing challenges facing U.S. employers is how to best manage multilingual employees, especially when it comes to the hourly, blue-collar workforce.

According to a Pew Research Center Report, immigrants are playing an ever-larger role in the American workforce, one that’s only expected to grow with time. After all, baby boomers are retiring…the immigrant working-age population is expanding…and America is facing an acute labor shortage, according to the most recent jobs report.    

No matter where you stand on current U.S. immigration policy, the fact is, 16% of the U.S. workforce was born somewhere else—and according to a United States Census Bureau report, less than half of these workers speak fluent English.  

For employers hiring non-English speaking workers, this creates pressing communication challenges. If your employees don’t really understand their managers’ direction, how productive can they be? Can you be sure they know how to correctly follow safety procedures and compliance protocols? Performance management, employee engagement…pretty much everything along the HR management spectrum depends upon good communication.

Even if your managers have been communicating more-or-less successfully with your multilingual workforce via informal bilingual employee translators, universal hand gestures and perhaps even tools like Google Translate, you’re leaving an awful lot to chance. Perhaps it’s time to put a more comprehensive employee communication plan in place for your multilingual workforce.

According to HR experts, a good employee communication plan is two-pronged: employers both communicate with workers in their native language, while helping those workers master English. It’s the only really way to insure you’re connecting with your bilingual employees from their first day on the job.   

With that in mind, consider these strategies for creating an effective communication plan for your multilingual workforce.

Conduct Training in Your Bilingual Employees’ Native Language

Even if a given job is manual labor, such as janitorial or landscaping work, training that depends largely on physical gestures won’t ensure workers fully understand their duties. Needless to say, haphazard training can result in substandard performance, even when employees are trying to give it their all.

Beyond poor productivity, when it comes to safety and compliance regulations, a communication gap between management and bilingual employees can lead to injuries, fines and lawsuits. And when workers feel unconnected to the organization, employee engagement and morale suffer.

Many HR specialists recommend offering formal training your employees’ first language, either by pairing trainers with interpreters or by training your most proficient bilingual employees to be trainers themselves. 

If a significant portion of your workforce is, say Spanish, perhaps the best HR management strategy is to hire bilingual supervisors to work with those employees and better bridge the gap between management and workers.

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Provide Multilingual HR Documents, in Print and Online

Of course you’re satisfying bilingual labor law posting requirements, but what about your employee handbook? Benefits enrollment materials? Pay stubs and work schedules?

And if you use HR software for tasks such as onboarding, benefits and even performance reviews, your employee self-service portal should be multilingual, too. Are you consistent across the board?   

Keep in mind: employees who don’t speak English are sometimes embarrassed to admit they don’t understand. As a result, they may miss out on important deadlines and information.    

Make Sure Your Time-Tracking System Handles Multiple Languages  

If employees don’t know how to punch in and out properly, employers can’t pay them correctly—and that can create a world of compliance problems and morale issues. Whether your workers punch in via a physical timeclock, a mobile time-tracking app or some other time-tracking method, a state-of-the-art time and attendance program will be able to operate in any language you need. 

Offer an English Language Training Program to Bilingual Employees 

While your foreign-born employees will appreciate your efforts to communicate with them in their native tongue, they may appreciate your efforts to help them learn English even more—and your company benefits, too.

Not only will your employees be better able to interact with customers and coworkers, offering English courses may actually help you lower turnover—a crushing problem for many employers managing an hourly workforce.

For example, McDonald’s “English Under the Arches” program offers bilingual employees the opportunity to learn or improve their spoken and written English. According to McDonald’s, the retention rate among participating employees has been remarkable: 88% of employees are still employed after one year of classes and 78% of employees remain after three years.

When Walmart Foundation sponsored an English instruction pilot program for retail employees, it generated similar retention results, along with marked improvements in customer service and productivity. 

In Other Words…

Making the effort to connect with—and develop—your bilingual employees is a shrewd HR management move that will deliver big benefits, from a more productive, safety-conscious workforce to greater employee engagement and improved retention. It’s especially important if your business is actively hiring immigrants or has already been impacted by the labor shortage.

If your current HR and payroll software isn’t geared to your multilingual workforce, see how EPAY Systems can help. From onboarding to time-tracking and beyond, our HCM solution is targeted to employers managing a diverse, multilingual, hourly workforce. We’re here to help, in any language. Take our two-minute tour to learn more about EPAY.

Filed Under: Workforce Management