Hispanic participation in the workplace continues to grow, with Latino workers accounting for 15% of the U.S. workforce in 2010, according to U.S. Department of Labor statistics. Latinos are projected to make up 18% of the total American workforce by 2018. Working in industries such as construction, manufacturing, hospitality, and agriculture, Latinos make an important contribution to the U.S. economy.
Although one can safely generalize to a certain degree about Hispanic culture, employers must recognize that Spanish-speaking workers hail from a number of different countries, each with its own culture and norms. Employers who make the effort to personally connect with their Hispanic employees, showing that they are valued and respected, will reap benefits in the end.
One way that employers, particularly supervisors, can demonstrate their commitment to Hispanic workers is by taking the time to learn basic Spanish. When communicating with employees, it is best to avoid the use of slang words, since their meanings can vary widely from country to country. In addition, employers should take care when using hand gestures, as they can sometimes be misinterpreted by those coming from a different cultural background.
Employers should be wary of imposing discriminatory language policies on Latino employees. Valuing Hispanic workers’ culture and the Spanish language builds an atmosphere of respect between employer and employees, rather than one of inferiority and isolation. Employees should be allowed to speak Spanish at work, particularly while on break. By refusing Latino employees the right to communicate in Spanish, employers deny them the ability to express their cultural heritage on the job.
According to the report “The Hispanic Labor Force in the Recovery,” in 2009 Hispanic workers experienced the highest rate of work-related fatal injuries at 3.7 incidents per 100,000 full time equivalent workers, compared to 3.4 for whites and 3.0 for blacks.” In light of this statistic, the availability of Spanish-language materials for Hispanic employees, including manuals, handbooks, and safety information should be a top priority for employers.
Due to the language barrier, literacy and other limitations, Hispanic workers are sometimes more difficult to reach through traditional means of communication. Hence, the Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA) requires employers to present information concerning workers’ rights, safety and health training materials, information and instructions in a language that employees can understand. Materials should be translated by a professional Spanish translation service – not just a bilingual employee – and it is best to use neutral Spanish, as terminology often differs from one country to another.
Additionally, Latino workers respond well to training conducted in person, with ample use of visual aids. In situations where large amounts of complex verbal information must be relayed to employees (e.g. training sessions, safety meetings), consider hiring a Spanish interpreter to ensure maximum comprehension.
With ethnic diversity and the inclusion of Latinos in the American workplace part of the new reality, the business community, workplace trainers and human resource personnel must develop an improved understanding of and sensitivity to language barriers and cultural differences. In the end, these efforts will enable businesses to stay competitive by supporting a productive, stable and safe workforce.
1The Hispanic Labor Force in the Recovery, United States Department of Labor