Language matters: How to ensure your warehouse workers understand your instructions

Is your company, like many others, facing difficulties related to an increasingly diverse workforce with employees from different countries? You are not alone, since most employers in logistics see this development in times of globalization and worker migration. Learn in this article how to eliminate safety issues and flaws in process chains by overcoming language barriers.

Why do you have to care about your workers’ language?

Of course, everybody wants to be treated equally. However, we need to rethink our false understanding of equality when it comes to training all your staff members with the same material. This will lead to misconception and some workers will feel left behind.

Both of these facts are very important to consider and improve. On the one hand, it’s a matter of respect to communicate with your staff from foreign cultures in their own language. It’s a positive signal you’re sending out; they feel welcome and appreciated when they sense that you as a company care for their health and safety and well-being. On the other hand, you want to make sure quality standards are maintained and workers perform their best. You will only achieve this if every single member of the international warehouse workforce knows exactly what the procedures are and what mistakes to avoid.

Also, you must not assume that everybody in your workforce speaks and understands instructions in the world language English properly. Neither is it the foreign workers’ responsibility to learn the local language perfectly before becoming part of your blue-collar workforce. Instead, if you want to become an outstanding logistics company that overcomes talent shortages, help workers from all over the world integrate before they speak your local language fluently. This process starts with providing both health and safety instructions and operational instructions in each worker’s language. 

If your employees feel this kind of respect, be it because you care about differences in culture or age, they are more likely to stay with your company. In return, your company will benefit from a decrease in fluctuation.

Why do you need to provide multilingual health and safety instructions?

Health and safety instructions will probably be the first part of onboarding new workers. Offering them in various languages is important because if your workers do not understand your health and safety instructions, this will endanger your whole workforce’s health and life. Therefore be sure everybody in your company knows and understands all safety rules to reduce the number of accidents.

In times of COVID-19, it’s even more necessary to strengthen your staff’s awareness of health rules to prevent the virus from spreading in your company and forcing you to lock down sites.

Why do you need to provide multilingual operational instructions?

It’s not enough proof to see your workers nod to know they’ve fully understood your instructions. You can only be sure they really know how to operate a machine safely if they are instructed in their mother tongue. Although you might get the impression that they are fluent in the local language in everyday conversation, that doesn’t mean they are able to grasp complex technical words and phrases!

Often, if training is given before the workers arrive at the working place or if instructions are given hastily, they might not understand every detail. It’s also legitimate that, in order to avoid losing their face, people will not ask their supervisors for every little detail they didn’t understand. In this case, they will either get lost completely during the task they are asked to fulfill, or they will try to find their own ways to achieve the expected result. All scenarios are likely to result in slow working speed, poor quality, and, finally, workers who are dissatisfied with their employer.

Always bear in mind the competencies you are hiring your warehouse workforce for – reading skills are surely none that you should build on completely, especially if candidates are not perfect speakers of the local language. Therefore, prefer oral instruction over written instructions.

Maybe you have employees in your workforce whom you can train to become a trainer and who are capable of teaching the content to their colleagues in their mother tongue. Keep in mind that this only works, if you have a large group of warehouse workers that you can onboard and train in that language. If you’re not in such an exceptional and perfect situation, you can hire external coaches to conduct face-to-face onboarding. Always hire professional interpreters exclusively to translate the instructions into your workers’ mother tongues. If this is too costly for your company, it can be an idea to implement a digital training solution with an integrated translation option.

Another way to give instructions is via multilingual videos or app solutions. Both are optimal ways to provide your workers with important information that is easy to digest because you deliver it in small chunks. Pairing them with clear pictures or even cartoons is the best way to draw your recipients’ attention to what rules you want them to know and follow.

How to deal with an international workforce – in a nutshell

Language is the key to your workers’ full competence and safety. It requires some effort, but you will do fine if you start out with these six tips:

  1. Use training software that offers translated instructions
  2. Choose spoken instructions in case your workers’ reading skills might not be sufficient.
  3. Use both pictures and voice to onboard your workers. Some might understand better what a voice is telling them, whereas some might need visual input.
  4. Use precise information and media. Use content related to your company’s sites.
  5. Use internationally known symbols like an exclamation mark to draw attention to hazards and color codes like, for example, red for danger.
  6. Use animation or images to make your instructions more entertaining and compelling.