Tips for Managing a Bilingual Workforce

June 18, 2014

In a bilingual workplace, language and cultural barriers can contribute to miscommunications and on-the-job accidents and injuries. When you are managing workers whose first language is not English, it is your job to ensure they understand their duties, company policies and safety procedures. And because employees who do not speak English may hesitate to ask for help when they are confused, every employer with a bilingual workforce must take steps to bridge cultural gaps and ensure proper communication.

Orientation and Training

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

Correct Signage

To promote worker safety, you should post signage and communication materials in the language in which your employees are fluent.

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

Translation of Materials

Consider professional translation of your materials. The standard translation fee is well worth the expense when weighed against the risk of workplace accidents due to poor communication or understanding.

Learning English

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 the workplace is convenient for workers and the team environment encourages learning.

Safety Standards

On the safety front, keep in mind that new immigrants may not understand the importance of following UK safety standards. If a machine or tool breaks while an employee is using it, the employee may try to make do or fix it to avoid potential blame. Make sure new employees understand that broken machinery in the workplace is taken very seriously and must be reported to ensure everyone’s safety. Workers should understand that properly reporting problems with equipment is a behaviour to be rewarded and that it will not cost them their jobs.

Staying in Touch

Plan to make regular, frequent visits with your bilingual employees to talk about workplace safety issues and any other 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 organisational value.


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