The Language of Healthy Labor Relations

Reducing language barriers workplace promotes safety, a stronger company culture, better relationships between employees and managers.The days of “our way or the highway” are over. If businesses want to compete on a level playing field, they need to embrace the United States’ growing international population.

More than 40 million people five years of age or older speak a language other than English at home now. Those are workers, students, and neighborhood leaders—all of whom might eventually be coming to your company to work. Although the dominant language in the organization might be English, meeting these employees in the middle has benefits that are both tangible and not.

Making a difference in workplace safety

First, the most tangible benefit: workplace safety. The US Bureau of Labor Statistics noted in 2013 that 65 Latino workers per month are killed in on-the-job accidents. This rate outpaces the national average, leading to the assumption that the language barrier that might exist between these workers and management has led to miscommunication of training and safety information.

Building a culture

But it also goes further than workplace liability. Language skills can be the difference in a cohesive workplace culture.

Steve Lozon, VP of Labor Relations for Penske Truck Leasing, works for a business with a sizable Spanish-speaking workforce, many of whom he comes in contact with on a regular basis. He realized his four years of Spanish classes in high school were no longer cutting it and took advantage of a company program that offered Rosetta Stone language training. With its always-on availability and adaptive curriculum, Steve can easily fit his sessions into his schedule.

“At first, I put it on a 28-day repeat at lunch time, for 30 minutes. That’s enough time to do three lessons plus a story or game. It got me addicted, so to speak. Then after that, I would make the time! Of course, the challenge then would come when I would travel. But now, I can use the mobile app because I finally have an iPhone®.”

Forging manager-employee relationships

It’s turned out that even just giving it a try can make a difference in relations with his subordinates, even though many of them already speak English. “Tangibly, it’s a great relationship-builder with my international counterparts who see that I’m making an effort. They typically are bilingual and speak English. They appreciate the effort and help me.” Those effects, of course, would be even more evident if his workforce had limited or no English skills. At the very least, Steve has bought himself some credibility with his subordinates.

To learn more about Steve’s language learning experience, read our new customer story.

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