Language Barriers and Diversity Training in the Workplace

Actual Comments of Why Employees Leave
“Lack of respect for the French-speaking client and employee.”

The Solution:
Having cultural sensitivity built-in to your workplace culture fosters a professional work environment, reduces legal liability and the chance of severely negative PR and, as illustrated by the quote above, can be a positive factor in avoidable turnover.

From the quote, we can assume that the exiting employee is a native French speaker—let’s call him Simon—who is working for a native English-speaking company that acquires a new French client.

Simon is a subsequent witness to cultural-based insults/stereotypes that other employees direct at the new—and perhaps difficult—client. Chances are likely that Simon’s co-workers were comfortable denigrating the French client in his presence because they thought of him as a peer first—and not a “French person.” But obviously Simon, even though his paychecks came from his employer, identified culturally and therefore somewhat personally with the client.

It’s a reasonable advancement of logic in this case that Simon internalized the racially charged negativity directed at the client, and began to believe that any and all perceived “lack of respect” he received at the workplace was due to his “Frenchness.” The equation is like this: They don’t respect French speakers here + I’m a French speaker = They don’t respect me (promote me, give me raises) because I’m French.

Examine your workplace culture. Is racial/ethnic tolerance truly ingrained in your company’s day-to-day culture? And ask yourself:

Is your workforce oddly unrepresentative of the diversity in your community? Has a recent event, e.g. getting a foreign client, being sued by a foreign company or hostilely acquired by a foreign company, introduced a fresh possibility for racial-ethnic venting or prejudice?

As HR professionals, it’s imperative to be there at the forefront of such events to issue or re-issue policy text regarding zero-tolerance toward racism inside the institution or perhaps to introduce diversity training in the workplace or reintroduce it as needed.

And seek out an occasional—to borrow from the French—tête-à-tête (a private meeting between two people), with anyone in your office who might be feeling victimized by foundational or situational racial or ethnic insensitivity: non-native speaking employees, for example, and/or those dealing with language barriers in the workplace. Check-in with them — it shows concern and respect. And can tip you off to new problems or even old ones you never knew existed.

(This blog post brought to you by HSD Metrics, an exit interview company that helps companies reduce employee turnover by providing automated reference checking, exit interviews, and by measuring employee retention. The comments from exiting employees that are featured in this blog are collected from actual exit interviews conducted using ExitRight, HSD’s exit interviewing service. Because we place the privacy of our clients at the top of our priority list; the names of all involved parties are kept completely confidential. Check our blog often for posts like this, to reduce employee turnover within your organization. If you are interested in learning more, contact us today.)