Communications in a multi-cultural workplace

By Susan Singh
|Canadian HR Reporter|Last Updated: 09/04/2003

Pension plans can be hard enough to understand when English or French are one’s mother tongue — for employees fluent in neither official language, multi-lingual services can help.

Plan sponsors have a statutory and fiduciary responsibility to provide information to plan members. Now that risk management in many plans rests with the individual employee, the plan sponsor has a responsibility to educate employees in a manner that is appropriate to the audience. In a multi-cultural workplace the customary meetings, brochures, and Internet sites may not go far enough to ensure that employees get information in useable form.

Sun Life Financial recently introduced live multi-lingual interpretation for members of its group retirement or savings plans. The call centre is able to set up a three-way connection between the caller, an interpreter and the customer service rep. The caller asks questions in the language of her choice.

The interpreter relays the question and translates the information provided by the subject area specialist.

“It takes a few minutes longer to complete the call,” says Susan Hunt, director of marketing for group retirement services at Sun Life, “but we know the information is reaching clients in a language they understand.

“We started this service because plan sponsors wanted to be certain that all their employees were in a position to make informed decisions about managing their defined contribution pension plans. They did not want anyone missing out as the result of a language barrier.”

Hunt says, “The interpretation service is one more tool enabling members to manage their pension plans more effectively. The interpreters give callers information that is specific to their company plan, as well as broader information on how a group plan works and the role of the plan member.

“More than 150 languages are available at the call centre from 8:00 am to 8:00 pm EST using a third party provider, On Line Interpreters.”

Mandarin and Vietnamese are the primary languages requested, along with Russian and Finnish.

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