5 Tips to Manage a Multilingual Workforce


As the US workforce becomes increasingly diverse, business communication becomes a challenge in a multilingual environment. Business owners and managers alike are looking for ways to motivate, manage and keep employees happy. Maintaining positive employee morale is a result of good communication. The challenge management faces is  communicating with staff when language barriers are present.

Here’s 5 Tips to Manage a Multilingual Workforce


  1. Establish an Open Communication Policy

When workers and management don’t speak the same a language, it can result in miscommunication and confusion among workers. Implementing an “open door” policy can be as simple as a suggestion box or anonymous Q&A column in the company newsletter, or any medium to establish an open flow of communication between employees and management.

You can even ask employees for direct input about improving their workplace, and then integrate those suggestions into the company culture and operations. This empowers staff because it instills feelings of acceptance, confidence and appreciation at the workplace. The information collected will give management and human resources insights to employee perceptions, preferences, interests and areas for improvement.

  1. Bridge the Language Gap

To tackle the communication challenge, some companies hire interpreters for employee orientations, training and other meetings. If the employee with limited English proficiency (LEP) is in-house or doesn’t work from home, another solution is to hire a bilingual employee who can work closely with the LEP employee to communicate the day-to-day tasks, report achievements and monitor progress.

Another solution is translating company materials for LEP staff members. It’s a good idea to keep inventory of employee handbooks, compliance regulations and other policies on-hand to distribute to staff members. This way, the employee has pertinent information in-hand and can stay informed of company news, updates and the employer’s products and services.

  1. Diversity Day

Schedule a team-building type of day or exercise where management and staff come together and train in intercultural communications. Remember not to single out any specific minority in your workforce because you want everyone to feel included and appreciated.

This is a good exercise for internal communications as well as, sales staff for situations when they’re on the road or communicating with people of a different culture. This can bring LEP individuals and English speaking individuals together to work together.

  1. Instill Trust

When a language barrier is present, LEP employees may resort to their native tongue when interacting with other employees who speak the same language. This behavior not only isolates them from their English-speaking co-workers, it creates an “us versus them” stigma. This type of behavior can be a sign of vulnerability and possibly hostility or lack of confidence at work.

To combat this, it’s a good idea for senior management and executives to take initiative to learn common phrases in their employee’s native tongue. This enables them to facilitate communication with the staff and communicate that they appreciate and care about the well-being and comfortability of subordinates.

Another way to build confidence is to offer (optional) English courses. Human resources can develop an English learning program that is specific-to workplace terminology. Or they can compile a list of local resources like classes from the local immigration center to give the employees so they can learn English through work.

  1. Challenge them. Reward them with responsibility

Identify the strengths of your multilingual and bilingual employees and assign special projects to utilize these skills. These employees will be able to contribute to other departments and can capitalize on the environments in which they feel comfortable and in turn, can lead to gained trust and confidence in the company they work for.

In addition, in 2012, the National Institute of Health (NIT) conducted a study which found that multitasking is naturally easier for bilingual individuals. Although the study focused on children, it did refer to executive functions , such as the mental process of switching tasks, the ability to pay attention, and to stay organized and strategize assignments. Bilingual persons have two sets of “rules” in their memory bank (one of each language) so switching back and forth between each language is more natural for them.

In Conclusion

With these five tips in mind, solid communication plans outline cultural differences, communication strategies and provides materials in the employee’s native tongue are essential for managing multilingual workforce.

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