Bilingual employees give huge advantages to the companies that employ them. That’s why bilinguals and polyglots are so highly sought in the job market.
To attract bilingual employees, you can offer a salary that reflects their language skills. Paying bilingual employees more is known as a ‘bilingual pay differential’, and it’s a great way to bring in the language skills that your company needs.
But how can you create a bilingual pay differential policy that’s fair to employees and fills the needs of your company?
Let’s take a look:
A bilingual pay differential is a financial incentive for bilingual or polyglot employees. A bilingual employee speaks two languages fluently, while a polyglot speaks multiple languages fluently (also called multilingual).
Essentially, it’s a boost in pay based on the employee’s linguistic abilities and how useful those abilities will be for the company.
Bilingual people are often spoiled for choice in the job market. Language skills are highly prized by companies, which means that bilingual employees can pick and choose where they work. Naturally, they usually choose the company which offers them the most incentives.
Incentives don’t have to be financial, of course. A good employee might, for example, pick a company that allows them to work remotely over a better-paying company. Or they might go for a company that prioritises work-life balance over one that pays more. But pay differentials are still one of the best incentives that you can offer.
By creating a bilingual pay differential policy, you will have a powerful incentive to bring the best bilingual employees on board. And those employees will, in turn, bring a whole host of benefits to your company.
Here are just some of the advantages of having a bilingual workforce:
Bi or multilingual employees can reach customers that were otherwise inaccessible or talk to existing customers in a language they’re more comfortable with. All of this is fantastic both for building new relationships and strengthening existing ones.
What’s more, making an effort to communicate with customers in their own language shows that you really care about them and their business. This is a great way to inspire loyalty and keep your customers coming back.
Having more languages under your company belt means that language barriers need not hold you back from expanding into new countries or different markets in your own country.
Reaching more customers globally is a great way to grow your business, and it’s made possible simply by hiring bi and multilingual employees.
Bilingual employees are often a hinge point in teams, as they are needed to translate certain things or to communicate with certain customers, colleagues, departments, partners, etc. This means that they serve an important role in fostering teamwork and collaboration.
All in all, bilingual employees are great, and bringing them in via a bilingual pay differential policy is a very good idea. But how can you create and implement such a policy?
Let’s take a look:
Not all positions need bilingual speakers, and some software can provide its own linguistic solutions without the need to hire a bilingual speaker. For example, CRMs, accounting software, and analytics platforms often come with several languages pre-loaded.
Many website editors, such as WordPress, also have translation plugins so you can translate your website copy. These solutions can be implemented in both internal and external customer-facing areas to reduce the need for multilingual speakers.
So, the first step in designing your bilingual pay differential policy should be to identify which positions actually need bilingual speakers.
Examples of roles in which being bilingual is an advantage include (but are not limited to!):
Teaching and training
As well as identifying which positions would benefit from multilingual employees, it’s worth establishing just how proficient these employees should be in any given language.
For example, a contractor working in a foreign country may need to know just enough of the language to understand things like warning signs, while a sales representative will need to be fluent to speak effectively with foreign customers.
Having worked out how proficient you need your employees to be in the language, you should now check their proficiency. After all, you don’t want to give someone a bilingual pay differential only to find that they can’t actually speak the language as well as you need them to.
You could do this in various ways, ranging from holding interviews in the target language to asking for CERF level language accreditation to administering your own simple language proficiency test.
It makes sense that people who speak the desired language better should get more differential pay. But first, you need to work out your pay scale and establish how you are going to track pay against proficiency.
Payroll and timesheet software can help you here. Time management tools will help you to determine how much time each multilingual employee is likely to spend using their language skills and the level of proficiency they’ll need to do a good job. You can then work up a budget and a reasonable pay differential using these findings.
If you’re not sure what’s normal and acceptable as a bilingual pay differential, do some research. Ask around your peers and colleagues and go through hiring sites to see what other companies are offering. Then, compare your findings to your budget and come up with something competitive that works for you and your employees.
Depending on your organisation, you may have freelance or contract employees. Freelancers who are fluent in more than one language and can offer services in multiple languages are a valuable asset. This can include content writers, translators, customer support agents, and instructors.
In this case, you may only offer extra pay for services carried out in another language, or you can offer a prorated option. It can be worth asking if your freelancers are using a business management software or accounting self employed. These tools can help to reach an agreement that incorporates their regular and increased rates, alongside their taxes.
If you are offering boosted pay for language skills, it’s a good idea to also offer language training.
Providing language education and training in the cultures that you deal with will help all of your employees to better communicate with your customers. Plus, providing language education and upskilling will help future-proof your company, allowing you to source new bilingual employees internally.
Remember, your multilingual employees need training, too. Just because they speak another language doesn’t mean that they automatically have good people skills. To make the absolute most of their language skills, they need training in combining their language expertise with relevant soft skills.
If more proficient language speakers get a higher pay differential, it’s only fair to give people the opportunity to improve their language skills. On the other end of the scale, language skills can drop off over time if they’re not practised regularly.
So, to make sure that your bilingual pay differential policy is fair and accurate, you should offer regular language assessments.
These could take the form of scheduled tests or ongoing monitoring. Or a combination of both. If your monitoring leads you to think that someone has improved in a language, offer them an assessment.
Paying some employees more than others is always going to be contentious. People on the same teams as those receiving a pay differential may feel that this is unfair.
So, it’s very important that you are completely fair and consistent in your pay differential policy. Explain to everyone what the bilingual pay differential is, why it’s in place, why it’s necessary, and how to qualify for it.
Don’t offer anyone preferential treatment. Don’t boost anyone’s pay unless they meet the stated requirements of your policy. And never boost pay beyond the amount you’ve set out in your policy.
Employees who know they’re being treated fairly will have more job satisfaction. And that means they’re more likely to stick with your company. So, for good employee retention, be completely fair and consistent with your bilingual pay differential policy.
Bi and multilingual employees offer huge advantages to businesses. They can improve customer relationships, bring in new leads, help you crack new markets, and more.
That means that bilingual people are highly prized in the job market. They can pick and choose their positions and even find jobs abroad very easily.
A bilingual pay differential is a great way to bring in the people with the language skills you need. But you need to make sure that your bilingual pay differential policy is fair and consistent and that it covers everything that both your company and your employees need.
By following the tips in this article, you can design a bilingual pay differential that works for you, your staff, your customers, and, ultimately, your business as a whole.