Voices of our Nation

Language diversity

Workplaces should strive to diversify their workforce by focusing on recruiting and hiring workers of different cultural backgrounds and nationalities. Employees with a variety of cultural background in the  workplace can offer benefits such as a broader range of perspectives and a greater ability for the workplace to compete globally.  Diversity can be an asset to workplaces when it is managed properly. However, introducing an assortment of languages and cultures into a work environment can create workplace barriers that must be overcome.  Workplaces need to adequately address language issues to allow employers and employees to effectively work together.

Cultural and language differences can prevent effective communication and workplace interaction. Workers who are not fluent in the primary language used in the workplace may have a significant difficulty expressing their needs or responding to requests from their employers or coworkers. If their job involves customer contact, they may have difficulty understanding a customer’s questions and provide incorrect or misleading information. A customer who is unable to clearly understand the worker due to a heavy accent or lack of command of the language may become frustrated and take his business elsewhere. Employers may face the obstacle of having to adapt their management style to meet the needs of workers from a different culture. Workers from some countries often believe that asking a supervisor questions is a sign of disrespect and that they should simply do as they are told. A employer may become frustrated with the lack of input from these employers and develop strategies that creates a workplace environment where each employee’s suggestions are encouraged and valued.

A diverse workforce could also lead to the formation of various groups where workers of similar cultural backgrounds or who speak the same language bond together. These employees may be reluctant to have any social interaction with those outside of their group. Employers and employees must recognize that there is a problem so that solutions can be developed that allow for better communication within the workplace. English is a complex language and non-native English speakers must often make a constant effort to understand the language and to be understood. When employees are unsuccessful understanding the predominant language these employees may feel inadequate and powerless. These are feelings that can interfere with their job performance and satisfaction. A patient, understanding employer can go a long way toward preventing or relieving such feelings. It is very important that employers and employees communicate effectively with each other to allow the workplace to run efficiently.

This article was contributed by volunteer blogger Shan Simpson.

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