When “going global,” first thoughts and efforts are usually focused on the customer: What languages do we need to communicate with global customers, and what new markets and revenues are we likely to reach? But there’s another audience that you should not forget – your own employees.
Language support requirements for employees are notoriously difficult to pin down. Even large, multinational enterprises, with HR departments in many locations, may not have a well-defined, global policy in place. It’s something that many companies struggle with – because of this, a lot of “ad-hoc” translation happens. In today’s post, we’ll provide some tips for systematizing and streamlining global internal communications.
Defining a Language Strategy for Global Internal Communications
Companies with headquarters in the United States may use English as a business language, but in practice employees are like any other consumer – they usually prefer information in their own language.
Define your strategy by answering a few questions, and assessing general needs:
- In which countries and/or regions are my employees?
- For each country or region, are there laws or employment policies that require employee communications to be in a specific language or languages, and if so, for which type(s) of content?
- What languages do our employees speak at home?
- Does my company have a “business language” policy? If so, is it part of each and every employee’s contract? (If so, be aware that local employment or social laws, or unions or workers’ councils, may effectively rule if there is a conflict.)
- How many of the employees are in a “global” role versus a local or manufacturing role?
- If all employees are in one country or region only, does the employee pool include a percentage of people for whom another language is easier to understand?
1. Check with HR or legal departments for each location where your company has employees. Using this information, they will be able to tell you:
- Top priority for translation: What must be provided in local language (for example, employment contracts, mandatory shutdown information, disciplinary notices).
- Second priority for translation: What should be provided in local language but which may not be legally mandatory. This might include any content that describes employee rights, company policies that you expect all employees to abide by, or any training that is mandatory. Even when a company has a business language policy, and all the employees are fluent in English, local policies and politics may drive the need for local language. In France, for example, certain employment policies (such as an early retirement offering) must be communicated to works councils and/or legal bodies prior to the employees… and you can guarantee that this happens better if the information is in French!
- Assessment of opportunity: Is there any content or communication that the local HR and legal teams create themselves, which is unique to their location?
This is useful from a process and efficiency standpoint, because a) you might find places where many locations are creating non-unique “unique” content and b) it will provide insight into what the employees in other locales expect.
2. Identify content types where all employee engagement is desired. For example, if you have an annual survey of employees to measure job satisfaction, you’re more likely to obtain full engagement if the majority of employee languages are supported.
3. If your company has a global language policy, quantify the proportion of employees who are fluent in the global language. This will be useful in assessing the risk of not providing communications in local language.
4. Any translated content that is part of a contract – whether it’s a sales or an employment contract – must be a high-quality translation. You don’t want to risk a lawsuit by using an incorrect translation for a contract. Get your legal department to vet the content.
5. Even if all your employees are in the USA, consider the diversity of your employees. Does your workforce include employees for whom English is a second (or third) language? Is there a need for languages other than English? Are there any health and/or safety matters where providing multiple languages is the most prudent action to take?
Summary: No Clear-Cut Answer to “What Languages Do I Provide for My Employees?”
This is one of the areas where all companies and organizations around the world would benefit from a freely-available, regularly-maintained, source of legal requirements for language support. Other areas are regulatory information (what must be translated to allow a product to be marketed for sale, for example, warranty information), import laws (what must be in which language to allow import across borders), and sales (what must be provided to allow a product to be purchased, like product specification and invoices). These laws and requirements are constantly changing, and many companies’ legal departments consider their knowledge to be their own intellectual property and a competitive advantage. While there are some resources in certain parts of the world – for example, in Canada and the European Union – this is where being a member of a localization industry community can be really helpful, as we often learn by word-of-mouth when a new law has been implemented!