Communication: A powerful tool of workplace inclusion

October 13, 2023
ESFM associates in Puerto Rico

Language is a part of our identity as individuals. It’s how we express ourselves and how we connect with others.

Nationwide, 75% of ESFM’s janitorial associates speak Spanish as their primary language. At certain client locations in states and territories like California, Texas, Illinois, New York, New Jersey and Puerto Rico, 90% or more of the ESFM associates are Hispanic.

To better engage with these associates, and ensure they’re equipped with the tools, training and development they need for success, ESFM is intentional in removing communication barriers.

Half of ESFM’s HR team is bilingual which has translated to an intentional focus on supporting field teams with bilingual supervisors and managers.

“This has been a huge success,” Human Resources Director Keisha Mackey said. “The opportunity to speak to our associates in a language that they can understand helps them be more comfortable and gives them the confidence that they can effectively express themselves.”

In years past, some ESFM teams made up of mostly Hispanic associates had struggled with turnover. Since hiring Spanish-speaking leaders, retention holds strong, 20-30% above the national average, while engagement soars.

ESFM’s investment in associate engagement and development has allowed the company to maintain an employee turnover rate of less than one-fifth of the industry average.

“By speaking my language, it is easier to understand and grasp what is being communicated. It makes me feel more at ease,” said Maria Cruz, a janitor at a technology client location in California.

She said having Spanish-speaking leaders has enabled her to build strong relationships with both her colleagues and managers: “Where there are good relationships one works with more happiness and a stronger desire to get the job done.”

ESFM’s commitment to its associates helps them to be more effective in their work.

“I am more than happy to have the correct tools to perform my job every day, the resources to speak when I need some recommendation,” said Yamil Rodriguez, mechanic PIT for a life sciences client site in Puerto Rico. “It makes us proud of our services to our client to ensure that all equipment operates with zero disruption to their manufacturing process.”

“Communication is effective and proactive,” added Emmanuel Vicente, an electrician in Puerto Rico. “The leaders speaking our language makes us feel comfortable. We understand what is required of each task.”

In the U.S. territory of Puerto Rico, ESFM has been growing. English and Spanish are the official languages, however, Spanish is more prevalent. Site leaders in Puerto Rico help translate business communications into Spanish for their associates to help involve them in the broader company culture. They also hold quarterly town halls for company updates and employee recognition as well as regular team-building activities and service projects. As a result, the team feels engaged and connected to ESFM as a company.

“What makes ESFM different is that each employee is valued for their contributions every day, and the strategy in place for communication is fantastic,” said Petronila Rodriguez, a janitorial technician in Puerto Rico.

Career development opportunities for associates include in-house programming and courses designed to prepare them for expanded responsibilities and job titles: the Global University for Lifelong Learning (GULL) and an English as a Second Language (ESL) program for those who would like to voluntarily expand their communication abilities.

ESFM is offering its new GULL program in Spanish starting with its fall 2023 session. The 16-week, self-guided program prepares high-potential hourly associates for salaried roles. Managers nominate associates to participate as a delegate and each delegate has a dedicated mentor to aid in the delegate’s learning and development.

“We had a lot of people who were interested but couldn’t be nominated because they didn’t speak English,” Mackey said of GULL. “I was determined; we’re going to do this in Spanish. I care a lot about people; I want them to have the same opportunities that I’ve had in my past experiences.”

“One of the things that I love is that ESFM is a company that really focuses on the development of their people and opportunities to grow,” said Maria Fuentes, a soft services supervisor in Puerto Rico.

*Italicized quotes have been translated from Spanish with the help of the associates’ managers.