Is your workforce multilingual?

Guest blogger Richard Sheppard, LinguaSkin’s Managing Director examines why you as a business with a fully functioning HR team should embrace different languages, and what it can do for your company.

Many organisations benefit from a HR software system to manage the myriad business processes and information relating to the HR function. Digitising and automating the back office function is great, but the real benefit comes from enabling staff to work directly with their information, initiate and process requests and view organisational information through an Employee Self Service (ESS) module.

Why multilingual?

When your workforce is monolingual, i.e. all employees speak the same language (or are obliged to do so), there’s no need for the ESS system to have multilingual capabilities. So, when is multilingual capability needed?

  • Multinational organisations:
  • If your organisation operates in more than one country, you are likely to have a linguistically diverse workforce. Sometimes organisations mandate an internal language policy (e.g. English is defined as the internal language business).

    Though this can work, it will generally only apply to certain types of roles or seniority in the organisation. Not all employees may be involved in inter-country business processes, but all will need to engage with their personal information and relationship with the organisation;

  • Cultural diversity:
  • In our globalised and multicultural society, even when we would normally expect all staff to have a basic capability in a common language, levels of understanding and competency will vary.

    Ease of use, accuracy and satisfaction will all be enhanced when people can work in their native language. A multilingual system can enable that – an employee, their manager and the HR team can all view the same data in different languages, all tailored to their preference;

  • Co-official languages:
  • This is the case in Wales, but is a very common scenario - look up a country on Wikipedia, find the section on languages and it is surprising to see how many have co-official and supported minority languages. Or if not formally recognised, significant portions of their population with a first language other than the official language.

In Wales, the latter scenario is the case. We have had a Welsh Language Act (in some form or other) for decades. The latest version (Welsh Measures, 2011) imposes bilingual regulations on a range of organisations, currently public sector or those with significant public funding, to have a bilingual provision for both external and internal stakeholders.

The timetable for the imposition of these regulations, their scope and various specifics vary by organisation, but if you’re in Wales and have or plan an ESS system, you should consider a bilingual (English/Welsh) capability – even if there isn’t an explicit regulatory need, there are always diversity, inclusion and employee satisfaction motivators.

How to get there from here?

If your current (or intended) ESS system isn’t bilingual already, what can you do?

  • Is it multilingual? Check with the vendor, it may be that it has a multilingual capability for languages other than Welsh. If so, you may just need to create a Welsh language pack. Be aware though, that you’ll also want the ability for users to easily switch languages.
  • Is it time for a change anyway? If so, move to a HR system that has multilingual support for the ESS module. Though this does have a cost, there are often other benefits from such a transition that can dissipate the cost attributable to acquiring the multilingual capability.
  • Proxy localisation. A technical term, which basically means the creation of a language ‘skin’ for a software application that doesn’t require any changes to the application itself. Costs, effort and disruption are limited and nothing else needs to change.

In all these cases, it makes sense to join forces with other organisations using HR software from the same vendor. They may already have addressed the requirement, or it may be able to share the cost of translation, configuration, etc. A considered, planned and (potentially) shared approach can usually result in a fairly painless and cost-effective way to add multilingual capabilities to your ESS.

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Written by - Richard Sheppard

Date - 07/02/2017