Are Your Employees Equipped with the Tools Needed to Succeed in a Global Marketplace?
In an increasingly globalized world, where consumption in emerging markets is expected to hit a staggering $30 trillion by 2025, it’s not surprising that 71 percent of business leaders currently plan to grow their companies in markets where English is not predominantly spoken. In a global business climate, how can employers ensure their employees feel equipped to successfully meet the demands of their jobs? We know communication is a crucial component of success for any business, yet it is unclear just how crucial language skills are to employees’ individual performance. Recent studies illuminate to what degree language acquisition affects employment—including employees’ attitudes toward their employer, job satisfaction, confidence in their abilities, and overall job performance.
Benefits of Language Acquisition
For many industries, language skills can play an important role in helping employees better serve their clients. Health care is a perfect example: Under the Affordable Care Act, large numbers of non-native English speakers—particularly, native Spanish speakers—now are accessing health services for the first time. They need to explain their ailments to their doctors, nurses, and administrators, but if their English proficiency is insufficient and their doctors don’t speak Spanish, then outcomes for these patients may suffer. Hospitals are starting to take action and provide their employees with the resources they need to learn Spanish medical jargon. In doing so, doctors, nurses, and other hospital employees are able to speak with these patients directly, thereby making patients more trusting of the care they are receiving and those administering it.
Employees also understand the benefits of language acquisition. The 2015 Rosetta Stone Business Employee Use Impact Survey, a survey of a cross-section of end users of the company’s 12,000 global enterprise customers, revealed that 9 in 10 employees believe language training is relevant to their job duties, with 74 percent reporting a direct, positive impact on their job performance. In addition, 70 percent of these respondents reported language training has made them more productive with their teams, partners, and vendors. Accordingly, more than half estimate their time saved after language training at three hours per week.
Investing in employees also improves their attitudes toward employers. In the same survey, employees reported increased loyalty to their employers due to their company’s investment in their professional development. By providing language training, employees reported they felt their company had taken an interest in their development and provided an opportunity for career advancement. As a result, 80 percent of workers felt more positively toward their current employer and 66 percent felt engaged at work. Retention also was affected: More than half of respondents said they were more likely to stay with their employer as a result of being provided an opportunity to build life-long language skills.
Lack of Formal Strategies
If language skills serve such a valuable benefit both on the client and employee side, why aren’t more employers adopting formal strategies to build them?
Most companies tend to approach language building in an ad-hoc manner, for the simple fact that their leadership teams are unaware of how pervasive language challenges are. In an episode of CBS reality TV show Undercover Boss, Rick Tigner, president of Kendall-Jackson Wine Estates, visits a vineyard and is shocked to discover that his workers do not fully speak English. While conducting crop estimation in the fields, he discovers his co-workers, with whom he is counting clusters of grape buds to predict how much fruit they’re going to bear at harvest time, do not speak English. Conversely, he discovers his managers don’t speak Spanish. He expressed his shock at discovering the extent of the existing language gap between his managers and workers. Through his experience on this reality TV show, Tigner inadvertently discovered a common thread among companies’ language problems: They often are hidden from view of C-suite executives.
A study conducted by IDG Research Services on behalf of Rosetta Stone earlier this year corroborates this thesis: The study revealed 90 percent of business managers say their teams face language proficiency challenges. Yet, shockingly, only 1 in 3 of those business leaders are engaging their Human Resource (HR) departments to address these challenges.
As HR professionals, what role should you play in the development of this strategy?
Senior management looks to HR teams to ensure employees are equipped with the resources and support needed to thrive in their roles, and language proficiency gaps—just like any other skills gap—need to be closed in a coordinated, strategic manner. HR teams can start by assessing the language needs within their organizations and adopting a unified language strategy that complements the company’s global expansion plans. The global market is changing constantly and, in order to stay afloat in a competitive economy, you must be proactive about adapting to the trends that are altering the business landscape.
Sheerin Vesin is the HR practice lead for Rosetta Stone’s Enterprise & Education Marketing Group where she leads research and thought leadership in global human capital trends for Rosetta Stone’s growing B2B segment. Prior to joining Rosetta Stone in 2011, she held a variety of business development and marketing roles in the U.S. and Europe for a social technology start-up and a B2B publisher. Before joining the global business community, Vesin was a foreign language instructor with the French National Ministry of Education, where she developed an English as a Foreign Language (EFL) curriculum, and taught at multiple grade levels, including in higher education. She also has worked as a freelance French-English translator. Vesin was a finalist for the 2014 Women in Technology Rising Star award. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.