"We found that we needed to communicate things twice, once in Spanish and once in English," he continues. "We have developed a series of tools and resources in both languages that serve as aids in safety education and awareness. Our daily 'Job Safety Analysis' and weekly safety meetings are completed by our employees in two languages or in groups that use bilingual employees to help guide and mentor the employees." The company's safety manual has been translated into Spanish and both English and Spanish versions are available on all jobsites for use as both a reference and a communication tool. Structural Group also has training videos in both languages.
"Following up by observations helps to ensure that our employees understand the information they are given and are actively demonstrating safe work behaviors," Emmons notes.
Differing work attitudes
Where cross-cultural differences are most pronounced is in the differing attitudes toward work. "The ideology of what constitutes respect is very different in South America, Central America and Mexico," notes Seretta Construction vice president Andrew McPherson. "Respect is much more of a requirement for the Hispanic worker than the American worker. Regardless of how much you pay a Hispanic worker, if they feel as though you don't respect them as individuals and respect the work they do, they will not stay with you for the most part. American workers only care about money."
Unlike the movie image of the lazy, shiftless Mexican, construction companies find that Hispanic employees are dedicated workers. "The Hispanic worker, for the most part, is much harder working, has much more pride in the final product, is much more 'company' oriented and complains much less," McPherson says. "The American worker, for the most part, feels like everything is 'not his' or beneath him. The American worker has a sense of entitlement to him that workers from other countries don't have. The work ethic that made this country what it is today is being lost. No one wants to get dirty anymore."
Krueger agrees that Mexican workers have a strong work ethic, but sees them as more committed to their workgroup or team than to the organization. These workers are more likely to turnover, which is expensive for employers. "So if you're a business owner, you want to see if you can make your organizational culture attractive to the Mexican teamwork," he says. "That is not an easy thing, but the benefits are very significant for those who can. You do that by starting at the top." He suggests looking first at the company's organizational strengths and then trying to leverage them into being the employer of choice for people of culture. "In Latin culture, one of their great virtues is strong loyalty, much more so than American culture," he points out.
Though some employers fear that money spent training new employees will be wasted because they will leave, he says Latino employees will see this as personal and value it, so they will be more likely to stay with a company that invests in them.
Accepting the reality that non-native workers are different and dealing with it is crucial. "We encourage our employees to avoid stereotypes and develop and maintain a good understanding of their fellow employees and their culture," Emmons says. "We require our supervisors to take sensitivity training which gives our expectations for ethnic diversity. When people respect and value differences, they can become closer to each other which translates into a safer, more productive job site."
Blending the cultures
Getting the job done ultimately overrides any cultural differences when working with a multi-cultural crew. "American workers are a little leery at first to work with Hispanics because they are afraid of the language barrier," McPherson says. "The Hispanic worker is, many times, hesitant to work with the American worker because of past bad experiences of unfair treatment. Once a common work ethic is shared and demonstrated, there are no problems." Any interaction problems that don't ultimately work themselves out at the company are resolved by Seretta keeping the most productive workers and dismissing the others.
"Workers from other countries are here to work," McPherson says. "These workers do not feel that their children need Air Jordan tennis shoes or that two to three cars per family is mandatory or that they should have cable TV in every room of the house. The perception that these people are 'taking American jobs' is nonsense. These jobs are ready to be filled by Americans at any time. The bottom line is that Americans don't want them. It is not that these workers are being paid less or that benefits are not being provided. That is the furthest thing from the truth."