It would be impossible to compile a definitive list of strategies to use when working with people from a variety of cultures. Furthermore, what works for one organization may not work for another. However, the following suggestions may help a multi-cultural workplace run more smoothly.
Support and encourage the non-native speaking employees
- Invest in extended orientations to minimize the occurrence of conflicts and other issues. Expect training to take longer with new Americans. This investment will pay off. Be sure to evaluate company orientation materials used in training. Simplify language and eliminate jargon in these company documents:
- job descriptions
- pre-employment tests
- interview questions
- orientation materials checklists
- skill assessment forms
- attendance forms
- scheduling forms
- performance evaluations
- charting forms
- Expect non-native employees to follow the existing workforce rules and policies, but realize that it will take additional time for them to understand these rules and policies.
- Identify a willing, informed supervisor or coordinator to be a liaison for non-native speakers. This person should be responsible for listening, clarifying and following up on non-native speakers’ concerns.
- Provide informed committed mentors when possible.
- Explain the purpose and procedures of employee evaluations. These can be confusing for refugees and immigrants. Point out that it is a discussion between the employee and supervisor – not a reprimand. Don’t wait for annual or semi-annual evaluations to give feedback.
- Ask the employees themselves what they need. The most vocal employees may not represent the majority, and there may be less need for accommodation than it first appears.
Support and encourage managers, supervisors and co-workers
Organize training/discussion groups for middle managers and frontline supervisors. They will need support and additional knowledge to appropriately guide and direct non-native speakers. This is a key point that is often overlooked.
If the company chooses to provide mentors for non-native speaking employees provide on-going education, and problem-solving meetings for the mentors. Increase the pay for the mentors, demonstrating that this position is a career ladder opportunity. Choose mentors that demonstrate ability to adapt to change.
Work closely with the employee responsible for training and scheduling new employees. Miscommunication at this level often has serious consequences. Research has shown that the rotation model of staffing, where employees are regularly assigned to new units or jobs, can make employees feel more isolated and actually decrease their proficiency and production. A permanent model assignment allows the staff to develop closer relationships and provides the opportunity to exchange information.
Acknowledge the extra time and energy it takes supervisors and co-workers to communicate with non-native speakers. Provide extra time for managers and supervisors to address language and cultural issues.
Create a positive atmosphere in the organization
Refuse to tolerate disrespectful behavior. This sets a tone of respect for all employees in an organization and could be stated in company policies.
Encourage employees to accept differences. Establish a zero tolerance policy for negative comments and attitudes.
Have fun with cultural differences and learn from them. Some suggestions:
- Put up a bulletin board with pictures or displays including articles from or about other countries
- Put on an art exhibit with art from different cultures or travel items brought by staff who have visited other countries
- Offer food from other cultures brought by employees or ordered from local ethnic restaurants; label the food offered in the cafeteria with name and ingredients
- Have refugees share their stories of how they came to the U.S. (Note: this can be very emotional.)
- Offer a presentation from a confident immigrant/refugee employee about his/her country
- Invite a comedian from an ethnic group
- Offer a foreign language lesson to English-speaking staff to build appreciation for the process of language learning
- Bring in an ethnic musical group
- Provide calendars from the United Nations or the Peace Corps
- Attend multi-cultural events such as the Festival of Nations or other local activities