Keeping Blue-Collar Latinx Workers Engaged

Cultural insensitivities can create disengaged employees who don’t feel valued or respected, and will leave for work that better aligns with their values.

In 2021, Hispanic workers account for about 18% (29 million) of the total workforce. That number is growing, and is expected to reach 35.9 million by 2030. Further, the U.S. Department of Labor identifies the following industries as having the highest concentration of Hispanic workers:

  • Farming, fishing & forestry (43%)
  • Building & grounds cleaning & maintenance (37.9%)
  • Construction & extraction (35.7%)
  • Food preparation & serving (27.3%)
  • Transportation & material moving (23.9%)

It’s no coincidence that these industries reflect the makeup of our customer base at Team Engine, since our employee communication software is designed for blue-collar hiring and deskless worker messaging. We know our users are looking for hard-working, reliable employees willing to roll up their sleeves and do the laborious work that needs to be done to keep America running—which, in practice, often results in a large makeup of Hispanic employees.

And while that’s great for diversity and inclusion in the workplace, it doesn’t always translate into a tolerant and welcoming environment for those minority workers. Over time, subtle cultural insensitivities (whether intentional or not) can add up to disengaged employees who don’t feel valued or respected, and will eventually leave for work that better aligns with their values.

The good news is that these hard working employees can be retained with just a few small tweaks to a company’s culture.

The Five Things Businesses Must Understand About Latinx Culture

In a 2020 webinar from the Illinois Landscape Contractors Association, Bernie Carranza (of Lotus Farms Chicago) addressed some of the biggest misconceptions about working alongside Latino employees including:

  • How Latinos show respect and disrespect (even their handshakes are different)
  • Ambition in the Latino culture (how to spot it and cultivate it)
  • Education (the Old School vs. the New School)
  • Pride in their work (How they show you they care)
  • Homeland duality (they are immigrants and patriots)

The hour-long presentation is a must-see for any owner, manager, or supervisor in the green industry, as well as in the industries mentioned above with a heavy concentration of Hispanic workers such as farming, fishing, forestry, commercial cleaning, food manufacturing, hospitality, construction and transportation. We’ll hit on a few highlights below, but recommend watching the entire presentation with your staff to really understand the cultural nuances Carranza advises on.

Lost in Translation: The Five Things Businesses Must Understand About the Latinx Culture

Hispanic vs. Latino

There is no definitive answer on the correct way to refer to a Spanish speaking person. In the presentation Carranza explains that, in his experience, people who were originally born in a Spanish-speaking country will typically identify as Hispanic, while those born in the U.S. with familial ties to other countries label themselves as Latino. Although somewhat dated, a 2011 study by the Pew Research Center found that the majority (51%) of Hispanic and Latino Americans prefer to identify with their families' country of origin or nationality, while only 24% prefer the terms Hispanic or Latino.

Latinx is a more recent term that replaces the “a” or the “o” in Latina and Latino to make the term gender-neutral. (The “x” in Latinx is pronounced exactly as it looks: luh-TEE-neks).

Carranza made it clear, however, that regardless of a person’s birthplace and current residence, they ultimately determine how they’d like to be identified.

The takeaway: Have a candid conversation with your employees about how they identify and what terms they feel are appropriate.

Understanding Ambition & Respect in Latino Culture

Cultural norms are often subtle and easy to miss, but also carry a lot of weight and send a strong signal when they’re disobeyed. Visible cultural elements (such as artifacts, symbols, clothing, and language) only make up about 10% of a cultural identity. The rest is rooted in intangible values, such as ambition and respect.

Carranza says that simple things like body gestures (which are rooted in cultural values) can go a long way in showing respect in the Latino community. Directly looking at someone’s eyes during serious conversations, for example, can be interpreted as a challenge to his authority. Meanwhile, handshakes for Latinos are supposed to be soft to the touch rather than firm and rigid. Greetings in American culture are brief and to the point, while in Latino culture, they’re more warm, welcoming and expected.

Carranza also said that Latinos often credit their achievements to fate or religious circumstances rather than their own ability. “We look down at our shoes – we downplay our successes,” he said. “When something good happens to us, we don’t credit our own hard work.” Because of this humility, sometimes Latinos are labeled as unambitious by Americans who see them as subservient.

The takeaway: Do the research to identify and learn about these cultural differences in values, then have a candid conversation with the employee about it. Let them know you care enough to have done some independent research, then ask them if your findings are correct. Remind them of the American norms you were brought up with, and let them know that your intention is never to challenge or disrespect them, and that the only way to make changes and improvements is to have any future missteps brought to your attention.

Communicating with a Blue-Collar Latino Workforce

You don’t have to overhaul the way your business is run to accommodate Spanish-speaking employees, but small changes or displays of effort can go a long way in showing that you care. That’s why we built a language preference feature into our employee messaging software and that allows for instant two-way translation.

The takeaway: Communication is the foundation of any successful relationship, so remove as many barriers to employee communication as possible. You can start by contacting your blue-collar Latinx workforce on their preferred channel (text message) in their preferred language.

Bridging The Gap

At the end of the day, the worst thing you can do is ignore the cultural differences that exist on your team. When leadership takes the time to acknowledge and address those differences, it sets a precedent for a working environment where employees can feel safe to bring up issues that might otherwise make them uncomfortable. It won’t happen overnight, and you may not get it right the first time, but if you commit to cultural sensitivity for the long haul, you’ll eventually see it reflected in your retention numbers.

Subscribe to the Team Engine newsletter

Want our latest and greatest delivered straight to your inbox? Sign up for our newsletter and get regular deliveries in one click.

Thank you! Your submission has been received!
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.