Overcoming Language Barriers in Workplace Healthcare (and improve employee engagement)

One of the most common issues that we encounter in workplace benefits is the language barrier. When it comes to healthcare, the simple truth is that benefits must be communicated successfully. Between your health plan itself, to new cost-savings benefits that you’ve added (tele-health anyone?), you must be prepared to educate your employees about them or face abysmal utilization.

As a general rule of thumb, the vast majority of businesses encounter some form of language barriers within their day-to-day operations. When you then consider the amount of benefits communications that have to take place, the challenges to communicating this (already complex) information to linguistically diverse population can be daunting.

We’ve compiled a list of our favorite tactics to engage a diverse population:

Find someone that people trust

One of the most important factors in improving engagement is getting people to listen to their peers. People trust their peers more than they trust company leadership. Most firms that employ a large population of non-English speakers find that each small “community” (group that speaks the specific language) has a few trusted people that are heavily relied upon. They may be people that have a good relationship with leadership or are very competent English speakers. Either way, it’s important to have these people on your side. They can be your mouthpiece when you may not be.

Target your messages

Just because you have the attention of the different groups within your firm doesn’t mean that your message gets across. Talk to the different groups and find out what they struggle with. Do they understand their benefits? How about their doctor, where do they find them? Often times a few simple changes can lead to significant cost savings. For example, many non-English speakers rely on the ER for fairly monotonous care. This is an extremely costly care avenue that can be quickly remedied.

Establish a point of contact

A common mistake is to assume that people will come to you (someone in leadership) with questions. If you know who people trust, go to them with your biggest benefits issues. Make sure that they know where to get your benefits information and how to answer their questions. At least make sure that they know that they can point their peers to you for more complex issues. Never underestimate the power of small social groups, they can be one of your fastest avenues to enacting quick change.

Just because your healthcare plan is cost effective doesn’t mean your utilization will be. We all know how expensive healthcare can be (especially during renewal time), so it pays to get ahead of the issue and distribute as much information as your population can handle. If this seems like a lot of work, look for outside vendors that can help with this. Health literacy is a key issue for most employers and the language barrier is just another hurdle to overcome.