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Overcoming Language Barriers in Commercial Cleaning

Teaching your employees English will benefit your bottom line and their professional growth

Language Barriers

American companies have long hired immigrants as essential workers. In fact, immigrant labor made up 17.4% of the American workforce in 2020, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Commercial cleaning companies are no exception. Many trustworthy and hardworking employees in our industry are immigrants.

According to the Pew Research Center, 52%, of immigrants speak English proficiently, which means you will likely face a language barrier when you hire immigrants to work for your cleaning company. The best way to address this hurdle is to establish programs that properly train employees in their native tongue while also creating programs that teach them English and create a culture of learning.

The benefits of teaching employees English

Billionaire Richard Branson put it best when he said, “Train people well enough so they can leave. Treat them well enough so they don’t want to.” Creating an English learning program for your employees is an excellent example of putting Branson’s mindset into action. Teaching your employees English allows them to better communicate with their cleaning team and your clients. It also shows that you are willing to invest in improving their well-being, making them more likely to stay at your company.

A strong grasp of the English language helps employees grow by giving them more opportunities and the skills to negotiate higher pay and a better job in the future. It can also open new avenues for referrals. Our employees are having more frequent English conversations outside of work and sending potential new business our way. This helps our company’s bottom line and benefits our employees too since we give them a bonus for the referral.

Invest in formal classes and practice immersion

Consider investing in formal English language classes as our company did. A teacher came to our office twice a week for three months and taught our team members beginner English. We are expanding the program this year to include more advanced classes for graduates of the beginner’s program.

Formal classes are an important investment since they teach reading, writing, and speaking. This produces better results than expecting employees to casually learn to speak English on the job. We offered these classes for free, but a cleaning company can set up the program costs in various ways.

Some company leaders worry about investing in classes that employees will not complete. If this is a concern, consider establishing a reimbursement program in which the employee pays for all or some of the costs of the classes after successful completion. Giving bonuses to graduates of such a program can also be a worthwhile incentive. If on-the-job classes aren’t possible, consider using bilingual software programs that allow employees to practice reading, writing, and speaking English at home.

It is also important that your immigrant employees practice language immersion with your English-speaking staff. For example, as many of our employees speak Spanish as their first language, we try to immerse them in English throughout the day. This means supervisors speak to them in English, they practice small talk on the ride to the next client in English, and they listen to English channels on the radio. Immersion allows workers to frequently practice English in real-life situations and think about the proper words in an informal setting. If an employee struggles to understand crucial information, we will translate it into Spanish.

Establish bilingual training programs

Clarity is key when it comes to training your team on proper cleaning procedures. Everyone must understand how to do a job correctly to prevent subpar cleaning, and more importantly, to ensure safety. This is why it is important that you create training programs in both English and Spanish (or whatever languages are most prevalent for your employees). Record your training videos in both languages and do the same with in-person training.

Hiring a team of nonnative English speakers means you must establish a trusted team of supervisors that can communicate in both languages. Training is vital to the success of your cleaning company, so you need to have your training team in place before hiring people who aren’t proficient in English.

Creating programs to teach your employees English is a huge boon to both your company and your employees. Establishing these programs gives your employees a new skill and helps them communicate with current and potential clientele. These programs also help your employees create new avenues for success in the cleaning industry.

Johnny Pallares

Johnny Pallares is the owner of DLR Commercial Cleaning in Phoenix, Arizona, which provides professional cleaning services to over 500 clients across the greater Phoenix area.

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Overcoming Language Barriers in Commercial Cleaning
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