Many industries are open to hiring non-English speaking employees. We see this often in construction, general labor, manufacturing, just to name a few industries. These hiring practices are an excellent way to create a diverse work environment, cooperate with EEOC requirements, but did you know that you have a responsibility to offer training and information to your employees in a language they can understand?
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Let me give you a couple of scenarios before I go on:
- We know that when your employees go through a required safety training, they must sign off their name to show they were in attendance and compliant. But, are your non-English speaking employees signing off that sheet and coming out just as clueless as they went in? Perhaps they understand a little bit of English and get the point of the training, but are missing the details in between. Does this make your company compliant?
- You are holding a company meeting with all your employees to provide updates on the products and the state of business. You are holding the meeting in English, yet, you have several employees who do not fully understand what is going on. You feel pretty good because you are keeping most of your employees engaged. Does this help your employees feel involved?
- Your management is very engaged, and they like to go out to the field, or the factory floor and touch base with their employees. When they get to a non-English speaker the manager waves, smiles, and might even say "hola." They are feeling pretty good because they are out there engaging with the workers. Does this make your workers feel Included?
The answer to each of those questions is NO!
But why? Very simple:
In the first scenario, you are failing to comply with EEOC and OSHA standards. The point of training - of any sort - is to ensure the employees understand the topic, specifically when it refers to safety. When you do not provide this training in a language your employee understands you are failing your employees and putting them at risk. Not only that but you fail to be in compliance. What if there is an accident? OSHA will come and inspect; they will see the employee participated. But they may go a step further and interview the employee, here they will realize he or she does not speak English and hence did not receive the necessary training. You, as a company, are at fault.
In practical terms, this means that an employer must instruct its employees using both a language and vocabulary that the employees can understand.
The second scenario is simple, are you truly obtaining complete employee buy-in when some of your workforce - the bones behind your product - don't understand how their work impacts profits or the success of the company? You want ALL of your employees to have that sense of ownership and pride in their work. This buy-in, in turn, creates happier and more productive employees who are willing to go that extra mile for their employer. But if they feel like "second-class" citizens, the outcome will be the opposite.
Our third scenario will have a similar result to the second. Your workforce, whether they work in an office, factory floor, or on location, always enjoy seeing an engaged manager. Someone who gets out there to ensure they are doing well, work is going fine and understands what is happening. Many managers use this opportunity to earn the trust of their people, hoping employees are more open to expressing issues or concerns. The problem here is, that manager is excluding a percentage of those employees because even if they like said manager, these employees may not know how to approach the manager or perhaps does not feel included enough to do so.
How do I correct these problems? You may ask.
The answer is not a one-fits-all type. It would be a good idea to hire a translator that can help you assess your needs. But, before you do, evaluate how many employees are not fluent in English and what languages they speak. Your company may already have access to bilingual training videos, if not, then you and your professional translator can discuss some options.
Some recommend that you separate your non-English employees and provide training specifically for them in their language. If the training is not video based, you also have options. Have the contents of the training professionally translated; if you have an employee comfortable enough with the material, he or she can present it in that language. Or, you can hire a translator who is capable of doing both, the translation and perform the training as well.
What about meetings and engaging with employees one-on-one. It would be a good idea to develop a partnership with a local interpreter. Some translators can do both. If you schedule the meeting in advance, have your interpreter be present and conduct a consecutive interpretation. At that time, you can make yourself available for one-on-ones with those employees utilizing the interpreter's services to communicate.
There are many other things to consider besides training and meetings. In fact, every document, announcement, or memo should be available in a language your employees understand. From new-hire paperwork, rules, regulations, to employee benefits. The more your employees know, the more engaged they will be. A happy workforce offers more productivity and less turnover.