3 Tips for Managers with Hispanic Workers

As an author with my own book targeting business owners who employ Hispanics, I am typically loathe to recommend other books competing for the attention of "my" audience.

However, The Gringo's Guide to Hispanics in the Workplace by Jacob Monty is one book I wholeheartedly recommend. It should be mandatory reading for any business leader who works with Hispanics.

Mr. Monty is the managing partner of Houston-based Monty & Ramirez LLP, an employment, labor and immigration law firm. He's been keeping companies with large Hispanics workforces out of trouble for the last two decades.

If you're the proactive type, Monty will help you establish the best way to hire, manage, retain and lead Hispanics in the workplace. If proactivity isn't your thing, he'll do his best to keep you out of jail and/or bankruptcy.

At 127 pages, The Gringo's Guide is small enough to read in a week or two. Monty's writing style is informal and enjoyable. It's a fun read - not easy to pull off given the subject matter. But more importantly, the recommendations and advice within the book can save you millions in legal fees, turnover costs, insurance premiums and rework.

Monty opens the book with the following comment:

"Many of the serious errors I have seen in my two decades representing employers with large Hispanic workforces have been perpetrated by good-hearted employers who did not acknowledge the unique background features, social norms, and histories of their Latino workers."

It's not that his clients were malicious. They were good people who made some costly mistakes. We see this all the time in construction, don't we?

  • The mechanical contractor didn't intentionally run the ducts in a figure eight - he was working hard and simply failed to pay attention.
  • The drywaller didn't mean to cover up a dozen can lights. He was maintaining the schedule and simply forgot to router out the fixtures.

In most cases, we have well-intentioned individuals making poor choices. The mechanical contractor and the drywaller can fix their mistakes with some material and labor.

Correcting course with employee lawsuits isn't so easy.

To help your business establish a coherent strategy for managing and leading your Hispanic employees, here are a three recommendations from Monty - no retainer required.

1. Uno: Respect the Culture

Culture will kick strategy's tail every day of the week and twice on Sunday. Here are several ways to connect with the Latino culture on the job.

  • Understand Job Satisfaction: In Chapter Two, an HR director notes that white employees largely get their job satisfaction from title and salary. Hispanics, on the other hand, get their satisfaction from having peers recognize what a great job they are doing. It's a bit of the Machismo culture shining through. While it's always good advice to "Praise in Public & Criticize in Private," this is especially true with Hispanic employees.
  • Thank Employees: This should go without saying, but the language barrier (perceived and real) often limits appreciation for the work of Hispanics. It's been said that Appreciation is the most basic of human needs.

If you're nervous, start with a couple Spanish Twins - words that are identical or nearly the same in both languages - like excelente (ayk-say-LAYN-tay) or fantástico (fahn-TAH-stee-koh).

Or go with gracias (GRAH-syahs) - thank you. 

Sí's and No's (Yeses and Nos):

Here is a quick rundown of good conversación (conversation) starters according to Monty - and others to avoid.

Sí:

  • Family
  • Children
  • Novelas (TV programs)
  • Geography
  • Language
  • Upcoming holidays
  • Food

No:

  • Violence in their native country
  • Politics in their native country
  • Drug trafficking
  • Immigration status

What may seem like common sense isn't. Given the widespread violence in México these days, I frequently hear English-speakers broach this topic as a conversation starter. Bad idea.

Let's frame this another way. I live in Chicago. There happens to be plenty of violence in Chicago. If I travel to Mexico and someone opens a conversation about Chi-town violencia, what am I supposed to say?

  1. It wasn't me.
  2. Yeah, but Capone just died. We're ok now.
  3. Chicago? No, you must be thinking of Milwaukee.
  4. Give Rahm Emanuel til October and we'll be Omaha with a lake.

You get the idea. Pick something else to talk about.

2. Dos: Get a Handbook en Español

"Employers are well advised to put their important employment policies such as no-harassment policy into the languages the employees actually understand."

This makes sense, doesn't it?

If some of your employees prefer Spanish, make sure your HR documents are in Spanish. Otherwise, you're going to hamstring your attorney (or Mr. Monty) when things go awry and the courts start questioning what steps you took to prevent the issue at hand.

If you have communication you consider vital put it in a language your employees can understand. Spending a few thousand dollars on translation could save you a few hundred thousand down the line. Don't be pennywise and pound foolish.

Here is Monty's take: "No federal or state law requires an employer to have an employee handbook. Yet, employers have found that a handbook is an excellent way to communicate important information to employees…. The employee handbook is also an excellent defense against employee lawsuits and administrative charges."

One day you'll have a handbook en Español. Do you plan to distribute it before or after a lawsuit?

3. Tres: Basic Strategies for Immigration Compliance

Chapter Four of Monty's book covers noncompliance with federal regulations. This section alone is worth the $14.00 price tag for The Gringo's Guide.

If you hire Hispanics, you could be dealing with fraudulent documents. False docs are easy to get. Monty knows. He went undercover, posing as an illegal immigrant, and witnessed firsthand the million dollar (if not billion) business that is the black market for fake documents.

Monty presents an easy-to-follow Top 10 List for immigration compliance. The list is certainly not a substitute for sound legal advice, but it's a start.

Ahorita (ow-REE-tah) - Now

Over the past several weeks, Hispanics have been featured on the cover of TIME (Yo Decido.) and USA TODAY (announcing minorities now represent more than half of all U.S. newborns).

Here's the reality: We're in the together.

Hispanics can offer your company great competitive advantages. In construction, just look at the ranks of landscapers, roofers, painters, drywallers, concrete workers, and laborers - to name only a few. There is a reason Hispanics own these jobs now - they want them and they are great at them.

Take advantage of the advice provided in The Gringo's Guide to Hispanics in the Workplace.

Bradley Hartmann is el presidente and founder of Red Angle - a Spanish language training firm focused exclusively on the construction industry. He can be reached at bradley@redanglespanish.com and www.redanglespanish.com.

 

 

 

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