By Paola Pascual on Sep 16, 2019 6:34:00 AM
Language and cultural diversity in the workplace can bring you amazing benefits, but if not managed correctly, the consequences can be damaging for your whole organization.
As the HR manager of a diverse organization, you understand the benefits of having an international workforce. A global mindset brings the company exposure to new ideas and perspectives, but not only that - it also opens up your pool of candidates, since you are not limited to one country or language.
However, studies indicate that the vast majority of organizations struggle with language barriers in their day-to-day work. This means that the importance of managing language barriers has never been greater than today. Our clients range from Silicon Valley tech companies to multinationals from all over the world, and they understand the HR challenges of multinational companies and how to tackle them. They all understand that communication proficiency among their employees can be a source of competitive advantage. That’s why they invest in the best solutions for their organizations.
Let's clarify the definition of diversity in the workplace before we move on. Organizational diversity means that your employees come from different backgrounds, and have different characteristics, viewpoints, and skills. Managing diversity effectively means that you understand that each individual is unique, and you recognize their individual differences and praise them. These differences can be along the dimensions of race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, socio-economic status, age, physical abilities, religious beliefs, political beliefs, or other ideologies.
You might have implemented effective strategies to build a diverse and Inclusive workplace, but it takes more than that to manage diversity and inclusion successfully. Read in this post the biggest challenges when managing a language-diverse team, the benefits your organization will get if diversity and inclusion are managed successfully, and different strategies to thrive. Our free guide How to Manage Language and Cultural diversity in the Workplace also includes an extensive chapter on how to implement inclusive language in the workplace. You can download the full guide here for free.
What Are The Biggest Challenges When Managing Language Diversity?
In order to come up with the right strategies to manage your multilingual organization, it is important to understand the challenges associated with it. Our experience shows that these are the top 5 challenges that you will potentially encounter.
#1 If they feel less, you get less
If you have an international team, your non-native speakers’ #1 struggle will tend to be insecurity when speaking English (i.e. language-based anxiety), and those insecure employees will be less likely to show initiative, which means, if they feel less capable than their peers, they will contribute less with their awesome ideas.
#2 Trust is the glue holding your organization together
As an HR Manager, you will agree that trust is the glue holding most collaborative relationships together, so it is important that your workforce feels unified and integrated. Developing great company culture is paramount. Language diversity can have an impact on trust, both positive and negative. How can it have a negative impact? Good question! It can actually come from a few fronts:
- I don't belong here. If your employee is the only non-native speaker, there is a risk of them feeling left out.
- Us against them. A common language is a strong bond between humans, and it is fine to take advantage of this, the danger comes when these groups segregate and you have a divided workforce.
- They are less competent. Some team members might perceive colleagues with lower language proficiency as less competent and are therefore less inclined to trust in their expertise, even when that is not the case.
#3 YES and NO can have many different meanings
It is important to understand that “yes” and “no” don’t necessarily have the same meaning in different countries (let alone in different languages). The fact that your employees are able to speak English fluently doesn’t mean that they are able to fully grasp these nuances perfectly, and this can also mean that they might have a different understanding of authority, hierarchies, team work, or deadlines.
#4 What are they talking about?
Do you have a group of non-native employees with a common language? If so, chances are, they feel more comfortable communicating in their native language than in English and they might switch back to their common language. In theory, this shouldn’t be a problem, but the truth is - it can be dangerous. If it happens in front of other peers, it can produce frustration among those who can’t follow.
If code switching happens in front of customers, this can give off a really bad image and it will not make your clients happy. Take the previous company - a French customer had a problem with the product and asks for help in English. An employee replies in English but automatically starts to discuss the issue with another employee in Italian. How do you think your customers will feel if they are not able to understand what’s going on?
#5 ‘Sorry, I don’t understand’ is difficult to say
And last but definitely not least, a great challenge in environments with language diversity is misunderstandings. If your workforce’s language proficiency falls short, they risk having communication problems, and your organization might fail to overcome the language barrier.
In some environments, admitting that you do not understand is much more difficult than in others. When this happens, the result is not only misunderstood instructions and missed deadlines, but also embarrassing and tricky situations.
What do you get from good language management?
Although your company risks falling in the above-mentioned pitfalls, good management of language diversity can result in great success for your workplace. Are you aware of all the positive effects that your actions can have upon your organization? Apart from these 4 tangible benefits of having a diverse workforce, read what you get from good language management:
#1 Retain your top employees
Increase employee retention by making them feel inluded and part of your business family.
#2 Close more deals with customers
If your sales team is doing negotiations in English, their proficiency levels must be close to perfect. Mastering negotiation skills in the language will encourage your clients to move forward and sign more contracts.
#3 Complete more successful projects
You will experience the best results and highest levels of productivity when communication channels are streamlined and everybody understands exactly where they stand and what they have to do.
#4 Get better feedback from customers
If your clients perceive that your employees have excellent skills and think that they got a great customer experience, they will be more inclined to leave positive reviews and encourage other customers to pay you a visit.
#5 Save money, get higher revenues
Excellent communication skills will save you money. According to a Holmes report, the cost of poor communication amounts to an overwhelming $37 billion. Conversely, “companies that have leaders who are highly effective communicators had 47% higher total returns to shareholders over the last five years compared with firms that have leaders who are the least effective communicators.”
Inclusive Workplace Practices - What Can You Do Today To Manage Language And Cultural Diversity?
In our free guide How to Manage Language and Cultural diversity in the Workplace you will find 5 solutions that are the perfect blend of what booming and well established companies are doing today and Talaera's expertise in the matter. You can download the guide here for free to find out more interesting diversity policies.
#1 Build trust
Communicate frequently and openly. Creating a trusting environment is key to welcoming employees and making them feel at home in the workplace.
Offer leadership support, be sensitive towards other cultures and send frequent follow ups and reminders. Facilitate communication by being consistent.
Adopt a common corporate language that all the employees are aware of and know well. This consistency will increase the chances of implementing effective communication within the organization. Use simple terms and expressions, avoid idioms, jargon and slang words, and implement visual methods of communication (like pictures in manuals, signs or cue cards). Simplify instructions in general, and use both telling and showing methods.
Now, are we recommending you to talk down? Absolutely not! Just introduce effective messaging tools and deliver your message intelligently. If you think your employee’s language is not proficient, there is no need to talk louder, just speak correct English, slowly and clearly.
#2 Invest in language training
One of the main motivators of top performers is continuous learning. Give them an individualized learning plan and opportunities to grow and develop their skills.
All of our learners have said that having access to English training makes them feel more confident at work and they also feel that their employers and HR managers truly care about their professional development.
Wayne Applehans, president and chief producer officer of Jones/NCTI, recommends to “opt for training that is personal, relevant and that uses the best technology for your employees.” According to a Jones/NCTI study, one-on-one mentoring is one of the preferred types of learning; “80% of respondents across generations say it’s important or very important that their company provides training options to fit their learning styles.” For most respondents, having training and development opportunities influence their decision to stay with the company; and last but not least, “they all want more opportunities to learn on the job.” Which involves the technology available to actually take part in these training opportunities.
Implementing Inclusive Language in the Workplace
In today’s increasingly diverse and globalized world, it is paramount that we employ inclusive language in order to comprehensively accommodate and include our colleagues of different genders, sexual orientations, races, and abilities. Not only does inclusive language enhance the mental and emotional well-being of existing employees, it may also help to ensure all potential clients, partners, and new hires feel welcome, seen, and respected.
It’s about using language that is considerate, accurate, and inclusive. This demonstrated inclusion leads to higher performance both internally and externally as respect and rapport are strengthened, discrimination and harassment decrease, and the power of stereotypes is diminished
To read all 5 strategies and learnhow to implement inclusive language in the workplace, download the full guide here.
Help your employees take their professional English communication skills to the next level with any of the following modalities:
- Individual lessons - the most personalized course your workforce can get.
- Group courses - small groups with specific topics to work on.
- Company webinars - private sessions we customize for your company.
Remote. Flexible. Effective.
For any additional information or questions, you can also reach out at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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