Is inaccurate translation undermining your HR efforts?

Employers who operate over multiple languages mustn’t underestimate the importance of accurate translation, warns one expert.

Is inaccurate translation undermining your HR efforts?
Organizations operating in multiple languages risk financial and reputational ruin if they fail to translate everything accurately – that’s the warning from one expert who says Canadian employers should be particularly sensitive to the issue.

“There are various risks when it comes to inaccurate translation,” says Mary Kazamias, VP of business development at TRSB – a Montreal-based full-service translation firm.

“A single mistake on a legal document can have major consequences for a company, but a good translation really goes beyond words or money,” she stresses.

Translations of offer letters and employment contracts can be particularly important for employers as a slight variance in semantics could have a significant impact when considered by a court.

“First and foremost, the service provider needs to have subject matter experts on hand to translate this type of content—not anyone can translate a legal document, and an offer letter is a binding, legal document,” says Kazamias.

“Accuracy is key in any legal document – but so is ambiguity!” she continues. “In other words, regardless of how a clause is formulated in the original document, that same essence or intent needs to be preserved 100 per cent in the translated document,” she continues.

“An improperly constructed sentence or poorly chosen term in the translation can create serious risk for the employer or employee, and can lead to unforeseen legal disputes and financial losses.”

As well as legal and financial risks, Kazamias says poor translation can impact company reputation and employee engagement.

“Nowadays, in a society that is uber-connected with social media and similar technologies, even the smallest of mistakes – whether the content is for internal use or publicly-facing – can be shared in an instant, and can really hurt a company’s image,” she told HRM.

Poor or inaccurate translation can also undermine an organization’s attempt to create a unique and cohesive company culture.

“Good, effective translation is just as important as good, effective communication when it comes to employee engagement and talent retention,” says Kazamias.

“The organization’s core values, as well as its mission/vision statements, are all key tools in reaching employees and creating a corporate culture. If these messages and communications are not translated properly, this sends a very clear—and negative – message to that segment of the employee population.”

That message, claims Kazamias, is that those employees are second-best.

“Poor translation at that level can lead to feeling like an outsider in one’s own company,” she warned. “As in any life situation, no one wants to feel second best.  Most employers today take great lengths to make all employees feel like they are important and unique. Translation—good translation – is certainly one of those ways.”

Aside from avoiding a number of risks, Kazamias says accurate translation can also drive positive results within the workplace.

“If employees feel like the company has the flexibility to adapt their communications to them, this will make a huge difference at the end of the day since they will feel really appreciated,” she told HRM.

“Employees will feel connected to their employer if the employer makes an effort to properly communicate with them—in his or her language, not the employer’s,” she continued.

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