Diversity in the workplace is certainly something to be celebrated, and can contribute to national as well as international market expansion efforts. Are there times, however, when bilingualism can actually cause a company harm? Studies indicate yes.
Businesses that want the benefits of an international workforce should be particularly careful to ensure that nothing gets lost in translation when it comes to transmitting vital information. This responsibility should be attended to both internally, between employees, and externally between workers and clients. Above all, it’s an employer’s responsibility, for their own good as well as that of their staff, to enact measures that will make translation seamless across the board by implementing the necessary business language training.
The Dangers of Misunderstanding
Two basic types of hazard exist in a workplace where communication is not up to speed. First, there are misunderstandings that are detrimental to business. This could include an employee’s inability to understand the actual language of a corporate discussion due to a lack of verbal ability in the given tongue. This can obviously be detrimental to a corporation, as an ability to communicate clearly and effectively is the basis of forming respect in any business dealing.
According to the Deseret News, complaints from clients have been increasing in recent years, particularly concerning customers’ ability to understand customer service representatives for whom English is not their first language. In fact, between 1997 and 2011, client complaints that revolved around their ability to understand support representatives increased by 76 percent. Language training courses that focus on pronunciation and on-call clarity may help mitigate such issues and lead to greater client satisfaction, which could in turn boost business and the bottom line.
The second type of risk that a company runs when employees do not share a thorough understanding of a common language is more physical. The Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) reported that language barriers contribute to 25 percent of all workplace injuries and loss of life, according to estimates from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention published similar statistics comparing deaths among Spanish-speaking workers who were born outside of the U.S. and those born in the U.S. to families where Spanish was the first language. The news source indicated that a majority of injuries occurred in high-risk industries, such as construction, manufacturing, and gas and oil exploration.
Benefits of a Common Language
In addition to promoting effective communication and workplace safety, employers that emphasize knowledge of a common language can also encourage workers to be more productive. A fluent understanding of the tongue used most frequently in the workplace can ease workers’ tasks and make them more confident in their own abilities. This, in turn, leads to greater motivation and efficiency in completing their tasks.
Addressing the Source of Poor Communication
According to SHRM, employers in the United States are not required to implement language training for workers in languages other than English. However, it can be determined from the previously mentioned statistics that offering language training for staff, particularly when a significant portion of members do not speak the same language natively, is beneficial for promoting both business and workplace safety.
This is not to say that companies should encourage that only one language be spoken in the workplace, which could be considered a discriminatory move. Rather, employers should ensure that language development courses emphasize the benefits of diversity and the equal importance of all workers being able to understand important information that could have an impact on their ability to do business or remain safe in the workplace.