As the demand for home health care has skyrocketed, the need for home health aides is projected to grow more than 48% between 2012 and 2022. Agencies are struggling to keep up, and increasingly, they’re turning to immigrant workers. In fact, of the approximately 1.4 million home care workers today, nearly 550,000 are immigrants.
While this workforce segment is filling critical vacancies in the industry, it also presents a unique challenge to agency owners: How can agencies successfully manage a workforce of non-native English speakers? How can agencies integrate these diverse backgrounds into a cohesive agency culture?
Of course, managing this language and cultural diversity in health care isn’t specific to home care agencies. But given the highly personal nature of services provided in home care, these challenges become more acute for home care agency owners. The actionable strategies below will help owners and management teams keep pace with the increasing globalization of the home care industry by ensuring both their workers and businesses thrive.
Mitigate Potential Communication Issues
Internal communication issues and language barriers are two top concerns for agencies with immigrant caregivers. When caregivers aren’t native English speakers, agencies need to make sure all communications are conveyed accurately and understood completely. Client wellbeing is at stake here, so there’s no room for error.
To start, consider offering materials and training in the caregiver’s language.
While this isn’t always economically feasible for a workforce that spans multiple languages, consider translating key materials into the most common language spoken by home care workers.
This ensures each worker understands the agency’s expectations and their duties; it also ensures agencies accurately communicate workers’ rights and benefits. For agencies that employ mobile technology such as apps, consider selecting a solution that supports multiple languages.
Agencies may also want to consider hiring bilingual staff.
Employees capable of speaking multiple languages can serve as a vital link between the agency and immigrant caregivers — as well as non-native English-speaking clients — to add an additional layer of accuracy to communication. These employees may also be able to assist with translating agency materials into a caregiver’s native language.
Provide Supplemental Training for Immigrant Workers
Recent immigrants may have differing skills and training than their native counterparts, especially when it comes to technology. Specialized training may be needed to introduce new skills and bring them up to speed.
Typically, agencies find that these workers are eager to learn new skills and genuinely want to succeed in their new roles. Agencies that take the time to develop a clear pathway for professional development can reap rewards via a highly engaged, educated, and loyal workforce.
Create Opportunities for Connection and Collaboration
Many cultures prize collaboration and teamwork over individual accomplishments. And yet, the nature of a home care worker’s job — being out in the field every day, with limited direct physical contact with other agency staff — may make a caregiver feel like they’re on their own. For the immigrant worker, this could be a difficult switch in mindset.
Agencies must build a strong sense of connection for this workforce by offering opportunities for engagement. This benefits all staff, not just immigrant workers: When employees feel like they’re part of a team, they’re more motivated to use their unique skill sets and talents to offer new ideas and suggestions for improved processes.
Understand and Respect Cultural Differences
Employees from different countries may value different things, which can be a surprise if agency management isn’t prepared. These differences aren’t necessarily right or wrong, but they can be a source of friction if all agency staff aren’t aligned.
Key areas of differences might include:
Agencies often follow a “time is money” mentality, and the goal is to serve as many clients as possible per day. Employees from other countries, however, may place a higher value on building relationships with clients. These employees may take their time on visits, which may delight the client but which may also throw schedules off kilter.
One easy solution is for agency managers to carefully monitor caregiver locations in the field, so they can proactively reach out to caregivers who might be at risk of showing up for their next appointment late.
Attitudes toward promptness can vary widely among cultures and even within a country. For example, workers from big cities may tend to be more punctual, while those from rural areas may have a more relaxed attitude about time. To keep a level playing field, management must be clear with employees about expectations for keeping meeting and appointment times.
Methods of Communication
It’s often surprising how much people rely on gestures to communicate with people from different countries, thinking it will help get their point across. But this can prove problematic when hand signs mean different things in different cultures. For example, putting the thumb and index finger of one hand together means “OK” in the United States. But in other countries, meanings can range from “useless” to “money” or even an offensive gesture.
Additionally, sarcasm and humor — especially when subtle or when conveyed in written form — frequently don’t translate well. What’s considered funny in one language might not be well-received by those from other countries.
The solution, of course, is to be sensitive to these differences and mindful of being as precise as possible with every communication.
Other Cultural Differences
Agency management should be understanding of other areas of cultural differences in the workplace, such as attitudes toward authority and working hours. Although these differences present managers with special challenges, as with other issues of diversity, agencies can overcome them through increased transparency and clear communication.
The demand for home health services isn’t likely to slow down any time soon, and agencies will continue to focus on recruiting and retaining quality caregivers. Immigrant workers will most likely remain a steady presence in this shifting environment.
But it’s not all bad news and caution. Immigrant workers bring a broad range of skills and talents, as well as dedication and enthusiasm, to both agencies and clients. Agencies can make it easier for these workers by arming them with the tools they need to succeed, and by creating an agency culture that values precise communication and outstanding quality of care.
At CellTrak, our mobile apps with multilingual functionality can help home care agencies better manage diversity in the workplace. Our mobile apps support English, Spanish, French, Russian, and Korean – making it easy to accurately communicate with immigrant caregivers from many countries.