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Admin August 22, 2019 4 min read

Your Participants’ Demographics Are Changing. Are Your Communications Keeping Up?

America’s workforce is changing. As our nation grows more diverse, communicating important health and retirement information has become more challenging than ever.

Communicating to Culturally Diverse Populations

The U.S. foreign-born population totals more than 44 million people.1 You’ve probably noticed the growing diversity among your people. Whether your benefits cover workers in construction, transportation, service, or other sectors, it’s likely that you’re creating communications in many more languages today than you were a decade or two ago. You may even find yourself struggling to locate people who can translate crucial information into region-specific dialects.

When I first became a union organizer, one of my biggest fears was that people wouldn’t understand my horrible Spanish. Little did I know at the time that I already possessed the most important skills for communicating effectively with people from all over the world: the ability to ask questions and to listen!

To produce culturally-sensitive communications, you need to have a deep understanding of your audience, and adapt your communications to their needs.

Beyond translating your benefits communications into other languages, what else can you do to ensure all participants fully understand their plans and are empowered to make the best use of their benefits? To be effective, your communications also need to be culturally sensitive. And to produce culturally sensitive communications, you need to have a deep understanding of your audience and adapt your communications to their needs. That starts by asking questions and listening.

Know Your Audience

Ask yourself these questions while brainstorming your communications:

  • Where do your people come from, and which region(s), specifically?
  • What are the retirement and health care systems like there?
  • What types of benefits, if any, were available to them previously?
  • What language(s) or dialects do they speak and read?
  • What is their overall education level?
  • How do they prefer to receive information (in print, by email, on the web, etc.)?

Meet People Where They Are, and Adapt to Their Needs

Are you still writing long paragraphs, when a chart or illustration could be worth a thousand words? Human beings have been communicating effectively with drawings for millennia. Infographics remain one of the most easily translatable media, because good ones combine effective copy with a graphical approach.

Back in my early organizing days, a crude drawing on a legal pad became one of my most powerful communication tools, because it could be quickly understood by everyone—whether they came from the U.S., Latin America, the Horn of Africa, or somewhere else. (If you think my Spanish was bad, don’t get me started on my Amharic!) 

Speaking of translations, Google Translate is not always right. Here’s an actual Google translation from Portuguese into English:

“Professionals who feel valued tend to be more productive and creative. They are those workers who actually wear the company shirt and seek to do their job in the best way possible.”

No, we’re not talking about uniforms. I guess Google didn’t know that “wearing the shirt” is actually an expression in Brazilian Portuguese that refers to cultural buy-in to organizations. Google can’t translate idioms, because it draws on the literal meanings of words for its translations. The takeaway here is that for the best results, it’s important to ensure your translations are complete, grammatically correct, and targeted to their audiences.

Translated print piece

There are literally a gazillion (see what I did there?) different countries whose people speak Spanish. So, content translated into the wrong type of Spanish could be unintelligible to someone from a different Spanish-speaking country. Conversely, how amazing would your participants feel if your information were presented in a way that they could quickly recognize, understand, and put into practice?

Translated website

At times, you may need to set aside your impulse to be fully accurate and, instead, adapt to the participants’ need for clarity. Sometimes a “provider” is best described as a “doctor” (and sometimes not). Remember, the goal of the communication is to spark a behavior change and solve a problem. If your audience can’t easily read and digest your content, it will end up in the trash can faster than you can say “eligible dependent.”

Set Realistic Expectations

Give your communications strategy time to work. Most people need to be exposed to a message at least 3 times before they take an action, so don’t be surprised if things don’t change right away.

Are you still writing long paragraphs, when a chart or illustration could be worth a thousand words?

Even the most beautiful newsletter in the world can easily get lost in the sea of communications people receive every day. Repetition is key, as is delivering reinforcing messages in different formats.

1 Jynnah Radford and Jens Manuel Krogstad, “Recently Arrived U.S. immigrants, Growing in Number, Differ from Long-Term Residents,” Pew Research Center, June 3, 2019.