There are many reasons Australian companies employ non-English-speaking workers. The most common of these, of course, is simple – they’re the best person for the job and their lack of English doesn’t hinder their ability to do it.
But no matter how well suited they may be to the job, there are other aspects of the workforce where language does play a crucial role, especially when it comes to critical areas such as workplace health and safety.
It can be tricky managing inductions for those whose mother tongue isn’t English but here are some strategies you can employ to help make the process as seamless – and clear – as possible for them.
- Firstly, make sure all your training materials are available in your new staff member’s preferred language. This includes manuals, brochures, contracts, agreements, posters, diagrams and explainers.
Never rely solely on an online translation service such as Google’s translation site, either. While they can be a fantastic and cost-effective way of offering non-English versions of your inductions, have them done expertly to ensure nuance and essential information aren’t lost in the process. This is particularly important when dealing with health and safety-related inductions.
Also make sure you provide everything in English, as well, so they have an accurate reference when reading the instructions in their own language. Also, if possible, ensure a translator is available as needed to ensure clarity – even on an ongoing basis. This is particularly crucial in situations such as meetings or video chats, where the speed of proceedings may not allow topics to be easily followed and absorbed.
o Hand in hand with this, it’s important to be astute about cultural differences. While new workers are keen to integrate and perform, the fact they come from a background where English is non-existent, or not their first language, opens up the possibility they’re unfamiliar with Australian business norms and workplace social or remote etiquette.
What this means, for example, is that the nod of the head we regard as comprehension of a task or rule may actually be anything but – more the result of a culture where it’s impolite to say you don’t understand something. Equally, something other staff may pick up by ‘reading the room’ during dealings with colleagues may not translate for non-native speakers.
Combined, this makes it essential to mitigate any issues before they have a chance to manifest. Do this by letting your worker know at the start of induction that you expect them to need time to learn, that you expect them to ask questions and that you want them to pursue knowledge because this makes for a good employee. Also showcase the office code and dynamics – even down to something as simple as using the communal kitchen – so they get started on the right foot. This should be accompanied by cultural training for yourself and your other staff to play your part in welcoming new hires. After all, embracing diversity is a two-way street.
o It’s also important to avoid assumptions, especially when it comes to workplace health and safety. We might ‘just know’ that scurrying up a tall ladder while not wearing shoes is a no-no, but that’s not the case in all cultures. So, avoid assumptions, find out how the staffer would generally approach required tasks, and tailor training not just around words but also around visual elements such as show and tell displays, and diagrams. Once training is complete, make sure you ask the staffer for a demonstration to ensure comprehension and then closely monitor them in the short term in case any information has fallen through the cracks. Also consider quizzes to make sure all nuances were embraced.
o Finally, consider implementing a buddy system so non-English-speaking staff have a mentor in regular contact and as a first port of call, not just for supervision but also as a resource for information and advice both social and task-oriented.
Do all these things and you’re well on the way to safely and appropriately inducting your latest staff member, setting them up for a long-term career and as a wonderful contributor to the success of your company.