Working with Latinos: Paternalism
Working with Latinos and how to be a successful manager:
Over the years, we’ve spoken with a number of non-Latinos who manage Latino employees, but one of the most striking examples of success was the general manager of a restaurant here in Colorado. This GM had an excellent rapport with his employees, a very low turnover rate, and had even successfully mentored one of his Mexican-born employees into a management position. Most notably, he had nothing but positive things to say about working with Latinos and his Latino employees.
His secret? Attitude and empathy.
“Some people see language and cultural barriers as so big that they can’t be overcome, but it is possible. It has a lot to do with attitude,” he told us.
One of the keys to success had been his understanding of personalismo– connecting with his employees on a personal level. As an avid soccer fan, he bonded with employees by talking soccer with them, and even played on the same soccer team as one of his cooks. He had numerous examples of such personal connections – some casual and others more deliberate – but these relationships occurred naturally within an overall paternalistic approach:
“‘Manager’ and ‘Boss’ are bad words. You’re not just there to teach them the job. The manager needs to be more of a leader and father figure, showing empathy.”
For this particular manager, earning trust and building relationships with his employees was actually a higher priority than building relationships with his customers to make them regulars. He spoke of the challenges of teaching his new managers how to effectively work with the Latino employees, stating the importance of being open and personable:
“If a manager is standoffish when working with Latinos they’ll gang up on him in a heartbeat. But earn their heart and they’ll do anything for you.”
The concept of paternalism at work can be confusing for a few reasons. First, Latinos may simultaneously regard their supervisor as a paternal/maternal figure as well as an authority figure not to be questioned or disrespected in any way. This seems to split the North American adage that “it’s not personal, it’s business” right down the middle. In that same vein, there is the North American ideal of “professionalism” that generally keeps one’s personal and professional relationships fairly separate.
However, as Nilda Chong and Francia Baez write in Latino Culture:
Obligations for a Latino supervisor generally include being a mentor, a role model, a coach, a financial supporter, and a friend. It is an unwritten part of the job description, something we [Latinos] naturally fall into, and a role that may become as important as the job itself. For a Latino, being a supervisor implies having an attitude that most of us consistently maintain in our personal relationships, that of “providing care for loved ones” (Mendoza 2002). The image that Latino supervisors project at work can be equated to the one they have with their families. It implies exerting power with a caring attitude, delivering results responsibly, and providing support for those who depend on them.
As a non-Latino supervisor, managing Latinos effectively can be both tricky and ultimately very rewarding, as this portion of the American workforce grows exponentially. If you find it difficult to relate to and manage your Latino employees effectively, it may be worth speaking with a Latino Culture Consultant.