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A Human Resource Introduction to Latino Employees

Don Bower, DPA, CFCS
Associate Professor and Human Development Specialist   dbower@uga.edu
Karl Pearson
County Extension Agent  
Karl Pearson
Muscogee County Extension Agent

Introduction

During the past few years, we've seen some new faces around -- in the grocery stores, at work, or walking down the street. There are some new neighbors in town.

Who are these new neighbors? Where did they come from? And some of us ask ourselves, "How do I manage this new workforce with the skill, integrity and success that I am accustomed to?"

Our new neighbors, these recent immigrants from Latin America called Hispanics or, more correctly, Latinos, can be a terrific asset to our companies. Many work

This publication is written to give you a better understanding of "Latino" or "Hispanic" employees.

It's an introduction to the cultural differences and barriers we face in the work place, while including some tools for more effective management and improved productivity.

hard and long hours with minimal complaint. However, as some have discovered, managing this new Latino workforce is different from what we're used to. Language can be a barrier. What seems fair and just to the manager might get a negative response from the employees. Also, even simple instructions might produce misunderstandings and frustrations. But once cultural differences are understood and language barriers removed, many Latinos become loyal, dependable employees who increase the value of any business.

Your business is your livelihood. You understand the importance of a productive and efficient workforce and agree with the business experts that employees are the biggest investment (and biggest potential headache) in any business. Effective employee management consists of motivating employees to be their productive best. The keys to motivation are good communication, defined tasks, rewards and discipline. Applying these keys keeps your business growing and the profits high.

How do we communicate with, reward, and discipline our new Latino employees wisely so as not to lose money or our workforce? Some suggestions for a successful business employing Latinos follow.

Language

Our new neighbors may not speak much English. Why? Many come from Mexico, or Central America, Puerto Rico, or other Caribbean islands, the countries that lie south of us. This area of the Americas was conquered and colonized by Spain in the early 1500s. Before the Spaniards came, there were many indigenous (or Indian) communities, such as the Aztecs, Mayans, Incas, and the Tainos, and they spoke many different languages. As the Spaniards extended their government and control over the whole of Mexico, Central and South America, these societies and their education were based on the Spanish language (as the United States was based on English).

neighbor2
The Caribbean

neighbor1
Central America

neighbor3
Mexico

 

Key #1 - Learn and Teach

Some Americans assume that Latinos don't want to learn English. In fact, most do.

Learning a new language, however, can be difficult, especially for adults -- not everyone is gifted in languages, and many don't have formal education. Many Latino children growing up in the United States, however, are fully bilingual.

The best managers often provide their employees with opportunities to learn English. In turn, these managers begin to learn Spanish. Local school districts and

community colleges often provide English-as-a-Second-Language programs at minimal cost. For the manager, there are many ways to learn simple phrases in Spanish. Don't be shy! Attempting to learn Spanish shows respect on a personal level, something very important to Latino employees. Latinos are not as nervous about making friendly mistakes as Americans are; many Latinos appreciate the effort by managers to understand and learn more about who they are. This appreciation is often rewarded in improved job motivation and performance.

Cultural Differences

It is important to realize that, even though many of our new neighbors speak Spanish, they come from diverse countries. These countries each have a distinct national identity and a separate set of customs.

We all work with each other according to certain expectations, assumptions and behaviors. Academics call this 'culture,' which can best be explained with the phrase, "That's the way we do things around here." Working with people who are "not from around here" can become frustrating as they bring with them a different way of doing things and looking at things. We explain something, which is evidently very clear, and yet something completely different gets done! You may have experienced this even when working with people who grew up in different parts of the United States.

Our new neighbors, our Latino employees, come from cultures very different from our own and often different from each other. The potential frustrations and miscommunications are great. However, the best of Southern life is also important to many Latinos: family first, personal relationships, high regard for history and tradition -- and excellent food!

Key #2 People First

Suggestions for Managers:

  • Learn to pronounce names properly, as this shows respect on a personal level.
  • Express your understanding of the importance of visiting family on the holidays and provide adequate time off for your workers.
  • Take an added interest in your employees' adjustments to life here: Do they know how to access medical facilities, insurance and public safety? Are their families getting involved in community programs?
  • Many Latinos have extra difficulty securing transportation to and from work. Helping in this area encourages your employees.
  • Some managers have helped their employees by offering phone cards and money transfers to their home countries.

In Latin America, life can be hard. Food can be scarce. Finding a decent home with clean water and sanitation is often an on-going struggle. There are limited insurance and social security nets. In order to survive and thrive, families need to stick together and friendships must be maintained. Therefore people, in the form of family or working friendships, come first before any allegiance to companies, businesses, countries or other seemingly non-personal entities.

If you've been managing Latino employees, you've probably experienced a thinning of the workforce around the holiday season, because many employees leave to visit their relatives. Latino employees take their family obligations as top priority, even above their own safety and well-being. Employment may come and go, but family is forever.

There are a number of other areas of cultural differences that can affect the work place. Celebrations (or fiestas), food, humor and courtesies are all areas where cultures are different. These differences can be quite complex and are very fascinating. Try to be sensitive to the differences while still being fair to everyone. Remember that Latinos come from many countries and they may celebrate different cultural occasions. For more information about these different traditions, see the books suggested on the last page of this publication.

Management

Key #3 The Boss

Respect is a very important part of Latino culture. There is respect for elders, for women, and especially for those in leadership and power positions, such as bosses and managers. There is a strong sense of that those in authority make the decisions -- and those not in authority follow without causing disruptions.

In the United States, there are many management strategies for including workers in decision-making and employee empowerment. We have a strong sense that everyone is the authority! Our new neighbors and employees, however, find it uncomfortable to question authority or be involved with the boss in making decisions. They are more comfortable when the boss is the Boss. What does this mean?

In a survey of Latino landscape employees during the fall of 1999 in Columbus, Georgia, by the local Georgia Cooperative Extension Service, respondents offered the following suggestions for their managers:

  • communicate clearly the job task and performance expectations;
  • realize their uneasiness with a boss whose uses profanity and who is impatient;
  • the respondents indicated a strong desire to work hard for managers who had taken a personal interest in them.

Workers in a recent Metro-Atlanta survey expressed similar comments.

Key #4 Achievements and Rewards

Suggestions for Managers:

  • State job instructions clearly, and be careful about being too impatient with language.
  • Don't be shy to give out pats on the back and praise good work, but praise a team publicly and an individual privately.
  • Encourage employees to take a greater role in decisions and management tasks, and provide them with management skill training.

Those who grew up in a United States school system learned that the highest-achieving students usually get the prize. We look at our work as a place to achieve

and we get satisfaction in winning awards or raises based on our achievements. We often take extra effort to increase our education, knowing that this effort may reward us with a better paycheck.

Latino employees often see this differently. Personal achievement, in front of and at the cost of co-workers, is often to be avoided. This can include education and training. Rewards and social standing in many Latino cultures chiefly come from family ties (being born to the right family), good luck or blessings or, most often, from age (elders are honored and respected above younger, more aggressive achievers), and not always through achievements.

This view of achievement can have a tremendous effect on management strategies. Some managers tell of near-mutiny in their company simply because a pay raise system, based on achievement, was set up. It was simple to the manager: the more extra classes and certifications a worker got, the higher the pay. Why were the Latino employees against such a system? Why did many find it unfair? Perhaps because personal achievement above some older co-workers caused tension within the team, or because the concept of rewards based on educational achievement doesn't quite make sense (and so, some might think, the boss is simply playing favorites).

Personal respect and friendly attention are stronger motivations than a system based on personal achievements. Taking a few minutes to connect on a personal level

increases employee satisfaction, encouraging an increase in loyalty and production. Personal praise and encouragement are recommended to be done privately.

Conclusion

In conclusion, learning key strategies to improve Latino employee management may result in greater productivity and job satisfaction, and therefore has great potential in improving any business. The most successful managers and business-persons realize that employees are a crucial investment, one that can propel the business to higher profits -- or be a continuous source of frustration and lost revenue. Key strategies in improving Latino employee production and job satisfaction include:

  • learn languages to reduce the frustrations of a language barrier;
  • keep people, and the personal relationships, first;
  • understand the hows and whys of rewarding and praising worker achievement in a more culturally appropriate manner;
  • differentiate language from cultural misunderstandings;
  • work to legitimize and legalize this workforce.

Learning more about these key areas will help you and your company stay profitable.

For more information:

Ball Floriculture Dictionary. 1995. Ball Publishing Company, Batavia, IL.

Condon, J.C. 1997. Good Neighbors: Communicating with the Mexicans. Intercultural Press, Yarmouth, ME.

Heusinkveld, P. 1994. Inside Mexico: Living, traveling, and doing business in a changing society. John Wiley & Sons, New York, NY.

Pastor, R. 1988. Limits to Friendship: the U.S. and Mexico. Vintage Press, Newbury Park, CA.

Hellman-Adler, J. 1995. Mexican Lives. The New Press, New York, NY.

Clough, C. J. Clomegys, & J. Saddler. 1990. Spanish in the Field. AgAccess, Davis, CA.

Temporary Lien Labor Certification. US Dept of Labor (H-2A), Employment and Training Administration, 2001. (http://workforcesecurity.doleta.gov/foreign/dflc.asp#h2a)


CHFD-E 52/July, 2001

The University of Georgia and Fort Valley State University, the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the counties of the state cooperating. The Cooperative Extension Service offers educational programs, assistance and material to all people without regard to race, color, national origin, age, sex or disability.

AN EQUAL OPPORTUNITY/AFFIRMATIVE ACTION ORGANIZATION

Issued in furtherance of Cooperative Extension work, Acts of May 8 and June 30, 1914, The University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences and the U.S. Department of Agriculture cooperating.

Gale A. Buchanan, Dean & Director

 

 
 

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