Opinion surveyAccording to Gallup Inc., increasing employee engagement should be a top priority for any business. Businesses with engaged employees enjoy better workplace morale, higher productivity, and more economic success than do businesses with disengaged employees. Gallup defines “engagement” as an employee’s emotional and psychological investment in a job. Engaged employees feel that their management values their contributions and is interested in developing their skills. Engaged employees are more likely to contribute “discretionary effort”—that is, they are more likely to go the extra mile to advance the goals of their team.

In their “State of the Global Workplace Report,” Gallup reports:

Engaged workers are the lifeblood of their organizations. Work units in the top 25% … have significantly higher productivity, profitability, and customer ratings, less turnover and absenteeism, and fewer safety incidents than those in the bottom 25%.

Factors that increase employee engagement include:

  • Having opportunities to improve existing skills
  • Being encouraged to develop new ones
  • Knowing what is expected and being provided with tools sufficient for doing it.
  • Perceiving that co-workers are also committed to doing good work.
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For any organization, first steps toward improving employee engagement would certainly include surveying employees to learn how much improvement is needed. However, such a survey can never be undertaken lightly. In fact, doing it badly can itself lower employee engagement, for the primary message behind an employee survey must always be one of invested concern: that you want to know what your employees are feeling about their jobs, and you will take their answers seriously.

Importance of Localization

For a global organization, translation and localization of survey materials are essential. To gather data for their analysis, Gallup translated their survey into 70 different languages for a total of 142 different countries.

Translating a survey requires more review steps than general business translation. Precision of language is imperative. For example, the following is one of Gallup’s questions, to which a respondent indicates agreement or disagreement on a scale of 1 to 5.

“In the last six months, someone at work has talked to me about my progress.”

If we use Google to translate this sentence into Chinese then back again into English, the question becomes:

“In the past six months, someone at work told me to bring progress.”

The two versions bring very different scenarios to mind. Gallup is trying to measure an employee’s perceptions about how supportive the employer is—how interested the employer is in helping the employee to improve. However, the badly translated version seems to ask whether the employee was ordered to “bring” (or deliver) improvement. These are two different concepts with two separate answers. One lesson of this little exercise is that you should never rely on Google Translate output for high-stakes communication. However, similar losses in meaning may occur even when a human translator is doing the work.

Gallup’s Process

This is why the Gallup translation process required several steps:

  • First, each region of the world was assessed to learn its “lingua franca”—the common language spoken by people in a country with a variety of native languages. For a West African country, French would be a typical “lingua franca.” In Bolivia, Spanish would be the “lingua franca.”
  • Then, depending on the target region, the survey was translated into French, Spanish, or English and tested/validated separately in each of these languages.
  • Two professional translators independently translated the survey from the common regional language to the native language.
  • A third party with facility in both languages and training in survey research compared the two translations and adjudicated any differences.
  • To ensure absolute consistency, a third professional translator then back-translated the reconciled version into the common language.
  • Finally, the native language version of the survey was “field-tested” in the country for which it was intended in order to ensure that it was uniformly comprehensible before the research project was launched.

Of course not every business has the resources for or the need to go through the painstaking process that an organization like Gallup undertook. Nevertheless, in any employee engagement survey precision of communication and an understanding of the particular audience is absolutely essential. At MTM LinguaSoft, we can provide a pre-translation cultural assessment by our network of in-country contacts, and translation and localization by in-country linguists to help ensure that all your employee communications connect with their intended audience, thus reducing the risk of misunderstanding and enhancing productivity, profitability, and safety in the workplace.

Learn more about Gallup’s “State of the Union Global Workplace Report” »

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