Understand your Hispanic workforce

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Have you had one of your Hispanic employees respond, “si” after you explained how to do something, only to have the person not follow instructions when it came time to do the job? Perhaps that person didn’t understand the instructions after all.

A situation like this can be frustrating. But have you ever considered that this situation might be just as frustrating for your Hispanic employees.

The way your Hispanic employees act or respond to you comes as a result of their cultural background, which is very different than ours. And, that includes not always asking for clarification when instructions are given.

“A lot of the frustrations I see between dairy owners and employees can be overcome by understanding the differences between American and Hispanic cultures,” says Tom Fuhrmann, veterinarian and owner of DairyWorks, a management-consulting firm in Arizona.

An awareness of the cultural differences can give you insight into managing Hispanic employees. Here are some of the differences.

Capitalists vs. socialists

Understand that Hispanics, generally speaking, come from countries that tend to be more socialistic than the U.S.

Meanwhile, Americans are capitalists; we’re competitive, always measuring, improving, growing our business, and are concerned about profits. We even socialize over competitive events, such as football games.

“What I see in Mexico is completely different,” says Fuhrmann. “It’s not about results; rather there is greater importance on the concept that everyone is equal.”

A common mistake is dairy owners assume the Hispanics they hire think in the same capitalistic, results-orientated manner that they do. The reality is, Hispanics are socialistic — everyone is equal and generally satisfied with where we are, notes Gumaro Gonzalez, training technician with DairyWorks, who immigrated to the United States when he was 13 years old.

Efficiency is a foreign concept

Unlike Americans, who come from a results-driven culture, Hispanics have grown up in a world where they receive basically the same pay no matter how hard they work.

As a result, there is no sense of urgency; everything can wait until tomorrow or mañana.

Family first

Appreciate that family is the first priority for Hispanics.

As Anglos, we say we care about family, but it’s nothing compared to the type of attention Hispanics pay to their families, points out a Texas Panhandle dairy producer who manages 78 employees.

Family can be more important than work. An American may miss his or her child’s ball game because there is a work commitment. The Hispanic may judge this activity more important than work.

Take time to learn about their families.

Corruption happens

Be aware that Hispanics come from a culture where corruption and mistrust are commonplace.

Generally, Hispanics believe that if someone gets ahead of them, that person will try to take advantage of them.

The ‘if you don’t cheat, you don’t get ahead’ attitude is seen as normal in Mexico, says Gonzalez.

Because of the corruption, Hispanics have a hard time trusting anyone. You can overcome that trust deficit with consistent actions that prove your trustworthiness.

Education isn’t a high priority

Hispanics are very intelligent, but they have been raised in countries that cannot put education at a high priority because of their economic situation.

This is in contrast to America where good schools are readily available; we attend high school and are encouraged to further our education beyond high school.

But, don’t underestimate the intelligence of your Hispanic employees.

Communication quandary

Never assume that the Hispanic employee understands what you are saying. Just because they say “si” does not mean they understand what you are saying or expecting.

Hispanics embarrass easily and will generally not ask for clarification if they do not understand an instruction given. This can be a hard concept for Americans to grasp because if we’re told what to do and don’t understand, we will generally ask. But, in general, Hispanics may lack the confidence to ask because they fear what you would think of them.

Hispanics would rather fake it before being embarrassed, notes Gonzalez.

Taking the time to explain what you mean can improve communications. “Our downfall is we say it once, move on and assume they get it,” says Fuhrmann. “This is a reflection of our American culture.”

To get around this, have your employees respond back to you what you have said.  Be sure to use simple words and don’t expect them to understand at once. Then, check on their results and take time to re-explain if needed.

Whatever you do, be careful not to crush their pride, notes Gonzalez. “Once you’ve crushed their pride, it’s hard to bring it back. You have to be tactful.”

A difference in standards

They have different standards than Americans do and you need to show them what your standards are.

A common mistake is when Americans assume goals and standards are the same thing. A dairy owner may assume that their employees know what clean is, and that they know what clean teats look like and that they understand dirty teats lead to high somatic cell counts (SCC), says Fuhrmann. But the Hispanic may not understand the connection between dirty teats and SCC.

Teach your employees what your standards are and what you expect.

Spanish is the native language

Obviously, the language barrier can be a challenge.

Use any Spanish you know. This shows respect and that you care about them as individuals, says Gonzalez.

There can sometimes be a disconnect between the owner and employees because of the language barrier. If you don’t speak any Spanish, try to learn the language. By contrast, “‘I’ll never learn Spanish, they need to learn English’ is the wrong attitude to have,” says a Texas Panhandle dairy producer. “These guys are here to help us, and you will earn the respect of your employees for trying to speak Spanish.”

It’s not about money

Money is not the same motivator for Hispanics as it is for Americans.

More than anything, Hispanic employees want recognition. However, many dairy managers expect that money is the primary motivator for employees, says Fuhrmann. “Most dairy managers fear that if they pat their employees on the back, they will automatically want more money. In most instances, that’s not the case.”

If you show your employees appreciation, they will be loyal employees.

Different country dynamics

Be aware there are cultural differences between Hispanics from Latin countries.

Just because a Guatemalan, Chilean and Mexican speak the same language does not mean they are the same. Each one has a different cultural background, just like British and Americans. “The differences may be subtle and small, but they are there,” says Gonzalez.

“A better understanding of these cultural differences has allowed me to improve my employee management and move some Hispanic employees into middle-manager positions,” says a Texas Panhandle dairy producer. “In turn, I can spend my time focusing on big picture things like futures markets, feed management and human resources.”

Understanding of these cultural differences will make you a more efficient, productive and profitable dairy, says Fuhrmann.



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Natalie Shaka    
Fort Collins, CO  |  December, 02, 2011 at 11:23 PM

Is this article serious? Has the author ever taken a foreign culture class or even an adult education class? This article is beyond absurdity and disrespectful not only for Hispanics but for anyone who has ever been exposed to a different culture. Either take courses in adult education or please STOP WRITING!

Kenito    
Albuquerque  |  January, 20, 2012 at 07:45 AM

I was thinking as I read that this article is bound to offend particularly academics. But the people on the ground might be more accepting and pragmatic. There are themes that ring true for sure, and I know many a Hispanic person who would agree. I've worked for 20 years (not in the dairy industry) and at least 98% of my clients have been Hispanic. This article is not so offensive from a dairy farmer perspective. It's actually progressive if you read closely and understand farming culture (I come from 100s of years of farming families). Rather than cutting conversation short, we need more on cultural behavior themes...especially to hone understanding across cultures. Proactive rather than reactive. NM is a good example of the need for this dialogue. Understanding comes from openning, conversing, connecting. Not from moralizing which seems the province of the university even more than the church (on this topic).

Natalie Shaka    
Fort Collins, CO  |  December, 02, 2011 at 11:24 PM

Is this article serious? Has the author ever taken a foreign culture class or even an adult education class? This article is beyond absurdity and disrespectful not only for Hispanics but for anyone who has ever been exposed to a different culture. Either take courses in adult education or please STOP WRITING!


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