BY MADISON WALLACE MARKETING CONTENT WRITER, GENSUITE
By 2030, the global labor force is expected to reach 3.5 billion, but multinational companies will still be facing a shortage of skilled workers
THE LEADER / SUMMER 2018
n an era of globalization, companies are reaching across international borders and establishing local presences to increase business. This enables access to larger and more specified markets, more populous talent pools and support across geographic locations and time zones. But global expansion is only one step in a series of challenges, and is closely followed by, or (ideally) preceded by, the cultivation of multilingual and cross-cultural competencies necessary for successful integration. By 2030, the global labor force is expected to reach 3.5 billion, but multinational companies will still be facing a shortage of skilled workers (1). To continue attracting top talent these companies will likely need to adopt a global work orientation by increasing location-based flexibility, redesigning employee training strategies and strengthening company culture. As global expansion introduces diverse languages to traditionally monolingual organizations, multinational companies are experiencing a series of positive and negative effects. For many companies, multilingual team members represent potential to build stronger relationships and assure more accurate translation services. Studies also point to the benefits of employing bilingual individuals, citing superior concentration, more efficient multitasking skills and improved executive functioning. (2) Effective communication is arguably complex for any company. According to a 2017 Gallup report, only 33 percent of U.S. employees are engaged at work, which can be attributed (in no small part) to a lack of intentionality in company communications strategies (3). For multilingual
companies, communications strategies become infinitely more important in addressing language and culture barriers.
Language Is Multi-Dimensional It would be difficult to discuss multilingual workplace challenges without addressing the term language barrier, which is defined as “a barrier to communication between people who are unable to speak a common language (4).” In the context of multinational and multilingual companies, references to The Language Barrier often seem to place disproportionate weight on social language, while neglecting the less tangible qualities of language. At its most basic definition, language is a means of human communication. But more so, it is a constantly evolving, context-specific mode of conveyance. To fully address and acknowledge the complications, solutions and potential growth associated with multilingualism in the workplace, we must consider the layers that make up every organization’s unique language. For example, social language encompasses the everyday writing and speech necessary for effective communication. But we must also consider professional language, industry language, technical language and company speak (think acronyms, internal software, proprietary technology and more) that employees must learn in order to succeed at an organization. (5) When companies implement a “common language,” this implementation is often singledimensional because it facilitates social language, but often fails to address other key components. Viewing a multilingual language barrier as a vpppa.org