Workers from non-English speaking countries are often extremely talented, highly skilled and have great work ethics, but many employers mistakenly let language and cultural differences prevent them becoming valued employees, says Labour Solutions Australia’s Managing Director, Andrew Northcott.
The process for ESL workers must also address cultural differences, Northcott says.
Supplying some kind of company culture training is essential for those folks who aren’t comfortable with all the norms and values of the Australian workplace environment. They should know which behaviors are and aren’t okay – “the rules of engagement”, so to speak.
Northcott says it may take as little as two days of workshops and seminars to supply a foreign worker using a basis for understanding important cultural differences, and this training must be supplied early on.
“To place that comprehension set up from day one means they understand their way around and they’re starting to become conscious.
“It will take some time to allow them all to adapt, but the sooner they have the knowledge, the sooner they’re going to begin to adapt.”
Cultural training helps to prevent workers from doing or saying something improper, creating a negative impression from the beginning.
Instead, new workers want answers to questions including, “What is asked of me in a meeting?”
“What [foreign workers]often don’t know is the fact that you’re likely to speak up and give – in many cultures you wait to get requested to try this,” Northcott says.
If a worker doesn’t realise it’s OK to get an opinion – maybe even one that differs from their manager – they could stay silent throughout a meeting.
“The [manager’s] belief could be, ‘Why have I got this individual in my team? They’re too silent, they’re not contributing, I’ve made a poor choice’.
“In several cases it’s simply because they’re working off a distinct group of rules,” he says.
Cultural training is also significant since it will help workers to incorporate well within their teams.
Without those two things… you’re not likely to get great teamwork,” he says.
“This is apparent should you walk into many IT teams or finance teams [where]a substantial percentage of the team [is]from nonEnglish-speaking backgrounds. Without lots of work to help everybody incorporate, it may work against the goals of the organisation around fostering good teamwork and common values.”
Play it safe
Employers of ESL workers must be especially worried regarding the essence of security training they offer, Northcott says.
“If organisations are getting people from non-English speaking backgrounds through the exact same safety training as people from native English speaking backgrounds, there could be some dangers to contemplate.”
An ESL worker might comprehend and “pass” a security training class, but still be vulnerable, he warns.
“Safety systems are reliant in your willingness to say, ‘No, I’m not prepared to do that action in the basis it’s dangerous.’ In certain cultures, to say this to an even more senior member of staff would be unimaginable, so even if I’ve understood the security training and I understand that doing that special action is dangerous and I’m designed to tell somebody, culturally that could be very, very challenging.
“So understanding and adjusting to the culture – [realising] it’s OK to try this, is really important.”
Employers must also think about offering cultural training to make certain their existing managers are equipped to manage multi-cultural teams and provide inclusive leadership to encompass a wide range of cultural norms and practices.