Managing a Bilingual Workforce

When managing a bilingual workforce, finding ways to ensure proper communication is critical to maintaining a productive and safe workplace. Language and cultural barriers that emerge in a bilingual workforce can contribute to miscommunication and on-the-job accidents and injuries. Because employees that do not speak English generally hesitate to ask for help when they do not understand, it is essential to have the necessary resources available to communicate information.

Offering Orientation to Your Bilingual Workforce

Orientation should be offered in the worker’s native language, if possible. Bilingual trainers in human resources or senior positions can serve a dual role, acting as translators at orientation and workplace presentations and safety meetings throughout the year.

bilingual workforce

Language and Workplace Injuries

To promote worker safety, you should post signage and communication materials in the language in which your employees are fluent. For Spanish language compliance assistance, OSHA offers a variety of free, health and safety materials at: http://www.osha.gov/dcsp/compliance_assistance/index_hispanic.html

In addition to printed safety materials, provide information about wages, medical insurance and employee policies.  It is beneficial to first evaluate employees’ level of education, job duties and common injuries, as well as culture and background, and then adapt your safety programs and communications materials accordingly.

Consider professional translation of your materials. If you have Spanish speaking employees, ensure the materials are translated into the most prominent dialect, and ask a native speaker to review the material for accuracy before distributing companywide. The standard translation fee ranges from $10 to $20 per page, but is well worth the expense when weighed against the risk of workplace accidents due to poor communication or understanding.

On-Site Education

To develop and retain skilled workers, you may want to consider offering on-site language classes to help your workers build communication skills. Offering learning opportunities at work is convenient for the worker and encourages learning in a team environment. 

bilingual workforce

Safety Standards for Your Bilingual Workforce

On the safety front, keep in mind that new immigrants may not understand the importance of following U.S. safety standards. If hand tools are not functional, or if they notice a hazard or imminent danger on site, for example, they may hesitate to bring the issue to a supervisor’s attention with the worry that their job is on the line. The worker should understand that properly reporting problems is a behavior to be rewarded, and will not cost them a job.

Stay in Touch

Plan to make regular, frequent visits with your bilingual employees, making sure to touch on safety issues in the workplace, and encouraging them to ask about any doubts or issues they may be encountering on the job. To create a welcoming environment for all employees, work to develop a company culture that promotes and supports diversity as a core value of the organization.

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