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Managing a multicultural workplace

Multicultural workplaces pose many challenges for communication with employees that can result in increased injuries. The rate of fatal work injuries among Hispanics and Latinos was 21% higher than the entire U.S. workforce in 2006. Although the most obvious barrier is language, bridging the cultural barrier is the most difficult.

According to Susan Smith, Ed.D. an associate professor of safety and environmental health courses at the University of Tennessee, 'canned’ training material will not fit every multicultural worker. It is important to do an assessment of your workplace and your workers to have a really good idea of what their cultural background is, what their level of reading is and what is the most appropriate way for them to learn. There is a big difference between Hispanic workers from different countries – the language will have different colloquialisms that mean different things to different people. Really reaching workers requires more than language fluency.

Some suggestions:
• Consider using training that allows for operationally hands-on work. This has been found to be more effective than interactive media training, such as CDs or online training, in multicultural workplaces.

• Identify those workers who are proficient in writing, reading and understanding the language and utilize their skills to help train others.

• Understand that some cultures foster a reluctance to question authority. Although they may be trained to report faulty, unsafe equipment, some workers may be reluctant to do so and feel it is their responsibility to try and work around the problem. It may be necessary to establish a hotline or system where problems can be reported confidentially.

• Don’t mistake your culture clues for theirs. For example, nodding a head or saying yes does not necessarily mean that the information has been understood. Take steps to verify learning.

• Consider requiring supervisors to become bilingual when managing a multicultural workforce.