15.5% of the U.S. population will be Hispanic/Latino by 2010, according to The Census Bureau. Businesses in many areas of the U.S. need to know how to manage Latino workers in a bilingual and bi-cultural environment. Check out these tips to better understand how to navigate this new kind of workplace. You will find that creating an inclusive and supportive workplace will enhance productivity and employee success. (Understand that cultural information is always general and may not relate to every person in that social, ethnic or racial group.)
(1) Respect for authority. Questioning a superior would be seen as disrespectful by
most Latinos as would challenging or criticizing a manager or supervisor because that
person by his or her position earns respect. This implies that Hispanics will respond
better to training by an expert rather than a peer. Also, Spanish-speaking workers
want to be treated with respect. If you treat them in a respectful and culturally
sensitive way, you will win their loyalty.
(2) Importance of the family. Hispanics really live family values! Family takes
precedence over job and career. Employees may turn down a promotion that will
change where they live or their work hours because of family considerations. They
may also go back to the home country for extended periods if there are health issues
for family members there. This pattern is probably slowing because of border
security and the difficulty of retuning to job and family in the U.S. If so, the affected
employee may be under great stress but cannot (because of the lack of English skills)
let you know. If you have built a strong rapport with your Latino employees, they
may confide their worries about family, including being victims of crime. To
successfully manage the Latino workforce you will want to connect with your
employees by asking about and getting to know about your employees’ families.
(3) Communicating on the job. Asking yes/no questions on the job can be very
misleading because Hispanics often smile and respond with an affirmative head nod
just to be polite. Also, be careful of gestures as a means of communication. A male
executive of large American corporation was sued for sexual harassment on the job
by female executive from Latin America. He used a common and acceptable gesture
in the US to indicate “come here” which is offensive to many Spanish-speakers. Just
turn the hand, fingers down, and sort of waggle them!
(4) Fatalism. ¡Qué será, será! Many Spanish-speakers believe that there is not much
control over a person’s destiny. Therefore it is important to do safety training and
insurance explanations in a way that connects on an emotional and personal
level. Find an interpreter for insurance open enrollment meetings, preferably not
another employee. The employees’ supervisor should watch this process to see if the
Latino employees are responding positively to the interpreter or not.
(5) Importance of the group. Latinos feel that the best interest of the group is more
important than that of the individual. Because of this cultural tendency, loyalty and
team goals are very important to Hispanics, making them great team members. This
may make it difficult to get a valuable employee to agree to be promoted and thus be
more powerful than others in their group or team. It is also unwise to try to promote
competition on an individual basis because of the importance of the group.
There are many resources on culturally appropriate management practices and on language issues in the workplace. To avoid misunderstandings in the workplace and to make sure that instructions and explanations are understood, find a language and culture consultant who understands and has experience in the broad Spanish-speaking culture to work with your company and employees.
These tips come from Patricia W. Smitherman, President of Communicata Language Services, LLC (CLS), which provides functional and culturally appropriate language training services as well as cultural consulting and translation services. CLS is a nationally certified woman-owned business.
Patty Smitherman has more than 25 years experience in language and culture training. She creates all training programs and materials for her company, Communicata Language Services, LLC. She has traveled, studied, done research and worked in a variety of Spanish-speaking countries.