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Creating Employee Fit Provides Benefits

By Judy West, Principal
English That Works, Inc.

For individuals who speak English as an acquired language, the ability to fit (in) is often crucial to their job success. For their employers, this ability is often the difference between employees performing a job and employees whose communication skills get the job done. Depending upon which dictionary you consult, "fit" could mean : to be the right size and shape for someone/something; to be accepted by other people in the group; to be appropriate or good enough for something; to be suitable; to conform correctly; to be in harmony or accord; to put into a condition of readiness. I define "fit" as a way to more fully participate in the workplace and to understand and be understood by management, colleagues, and clients.

At all levels of an organization, from entry to executive, and in all types of organizations, the ability to communicate clearly and effectively is a must have skill. It affects how we present our ideas, demonstrate understanding, report problems, gain cooperation, negotiate an outcome, work safely, participate in meetings, get promoted, and function as a member of a team. Communicating well is difficult. Imagine how hard it is in a second language where one may not have the words he/she needs, may have an unfamiliar accent, may not know the accepted ways to communicate in a given situation, or may come from a culture with different rules about who communicates with whom, how, and when.

From basic English survival skills and job-focused communication skills to higher level speaking, listening, writing, and cultural awareness skills, group training and individualized coaching, supported and encouraged by management, can address workplace communication issues, create a better fit for multinational employees, and provide benefits for their employers.

Although it is often difficult to measure if training alone has a significant impact on employee performance, and very little has been written on the return on investment of language skills training, examining participant initiative and considering comparative data provides some information on training investment benefits.

After clearly defined and designed language training is delivered, employers are likely to see the following results/changes:

  • Greater participation on work teams and in meetings
  • Demonstrated willingness to take communicative risks (e.g. start conversations, make presentations, assume leadership)
  • Heightened client/coworker satisfaction with interactions and relationships
  • Increased incidences of asking for clarification when something is unclear
  • Less time required to do a communicative task like providing information (hours saved x salary)
  • Decreased time spent by supervisors providing assistance ( hours saved x salary)
  • Lower incidence of misunderstanding due to oral or written skills and cultural differences
  • Greater ability to perform the increasingly demanding communicative tasks required for competent job performance and promotion
  • More accurate pronunciation
  • Clearer, more focused written documents
  • Less complaints/increased customer satisfaction
  • Heightened self confidence and awareness
  • Enhanced company image through demonstrated commitment to employee development

To gain the benefits listed above, here are some recommendations for organizations considering workplace training:

  • Provide short language improvement and cultural and interpersonal awareness courses with clearly stated, achievable goals
  • Demonstrate commitment to language improvement by supporting employees and providing opportunities to use newly acquired skills
  • Learn more about employees' cultures to promote greater understanding and insight into employee behaviors
  • Address potential barriers to training including scheduling, supervisor support, childcare, transportation, and stigma
  • Offer one-on-one coaching for employees whose positions require highly developed communication and cultural awareness skills
  • Mentor employees to help them understand workplace culture and expectations and what is needed for advancement

Individuals who strengthen their communication skills and become aware of which behaviors lead to positive outcomes and relationships often contribute and achieve more in their organization. They are more able to get their message across, meet their performance objectives, interact more assertively, and increase their professional visibility and credibility. This enables them to do their jobs better and enhances the effectiveness of their teams and organizations.

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