Right after Thanksgiving of last year I was giving a conference for some business owners in Arizona, and this Anglo gentleman approached me with the following statement: “Why are some of my Hispanics so ungrateful?”
I thought, whoa - since when are we Latinos an ungrateful people? Well, I was polite and simply asked him to explain to me why he had this perception of our people.
“At Thanksgiving,” he said, “I gave all my men turkeys, and they just didn't seem to appreciate it.”
I asked him if there were other instances of ungratefulness on the part of his employees. He said no. Although he was making a very broad assumption regarding the “gratefulness” of people based on an isolated incident, let's say this guy had a point. I mean, after all, he was giving something to his employees that obviously held some emotional value to him. We're talking about Thanksgiving here!
So I asked him a few questions.
“Have you traveled much in Mexico?”
“Have you ever had meals with your employees?”
“Do you know how often Mexicans eat turkey as a meat of choice?”
Well, of course, Mexicans and most Latinos rarely, if ever, eat turkey. We eat rice, beans, pork, seafood, plantains, burritos, tacos, and, if you are Mexican, you may even suck on a lollipop flavored with jalapeño peppers! But one thing is for sure: A turkey doesn't excite us as much as a roast pig.
Anyway, the people were not ungrateful; the Anglo businessman just didn't understand that the value of a gift is in the heart of the receiver. He meant well, but he would have been better off having a big fiesta, breaking open some piñatas and drinking some tequila. That would have been appreciated!
There are seven days a year, however, that you can truly leverage to make a strong cultural impact on your Hispanic workers. Believe me, they will be very, very grateful if you take these days to heart.
Special Day Número Uno: Three Kings DayThis is called “El d'a de los Tres Reyes” (“Epiphany” in English) and it's on Jan. 6. This is the traditional Latino Christmas. Now, unfortunately (in my view), Santa Claus has taken over in even Latin America, but all of us recognize to some degree “El D'a de los Tres Reyes.” This holiday commemorates the day when “These Three Kings of the Orient” visited the Baby Jesus.
We are still a fairly religious society, and this plays well to our people. A small yet special gift to the children of your Latino employees on this day will show not only that you care about their kids, which is very important, it will also show that you understand our culture and our traditions. Wow, talk about impressing us!
Special Day Número Dos: Mother's DayAh, mamá. She is by far the most important person in our lives. Make sure to give mom a little bit of love here. We are a matriarchal society and we love our mothers. She is very, very important.
I have a client in Dallas who passes out telephone calling cards to his employees every Mother's Day, and before they are sent out into the field he has all his employees call their madres. Here is a wise man indeed - and one with very little turnover, by the way.
Mother's Day is different in each Latin American country, so make sure to do a little bit of homework and find out when Mother's Day is in, say, Mexico or Honduras, or wherever. Just ask your people.
Special Day Número Tres: Good FridayNo one works on Good Friday in Latin America, outside of emergency-type positions. This is a sacred holiday and even more important than Easter. This is due to the emphasis placed by the Catholic Church on the crucifixion. By the way, more than 80 percent of all Latinos are Catholic, either in name or practice.
I encourage companies in the United States, to the degree possible, to offer their employees at least half the day off on Good Friday. The complete day is better, even if they are asked then to work on Saturday. The day itself is significant and, in a perfect world, is honored by the Latino person, since in our countries it is still consistently honored with processions. In fact, many people do not work the entire Semana Santa, which means Holy Week.
Special Day Número Cuatro: National Children's DayNext to mom, no one is more important in our culture than the children. April 30 is National Children's Day in Mexico. What a great opportunity to throw a fiesta, break some piñatas, and endear yourself to the children of your employees.
Be sure to rub their beautiful heads and say, ¡Qué lindo! if it's a boy and ¡Qué linda! if it's a girl. Make a big deal over people's kids. They will love you if you love their children. Other countries celebrate the Day of the Child on different days, so you will want to check this out with your employees as well.
Loving what your people love shows that you care about them!
Special Day Número Cinco: Father's DayThis will sound a bit odd, but here goes - Father's Day is not a very important day in Latin America. We just don't seem to have the veneration for our fathers that we have for our mothers.
One man, oh yes, the same very wise man who passes out the telephone cards, is doing something to change this with his people. Every Father's Day he brings in the kids with their dads (no moms) and makes a big deal about how important their dad is.
Kids see their dads do impossible things like drive a big truck, lift heavy things that no mere mortal could do and scale heights like Spider-Man himself. Of course, this makes the dads (your employees) feel pretty good, too!
I think it is time to make Father's Day a very special day in our Latino world, so I include it here for your consideration.
Special Day Número Seis: Independence DayMexico celebrates Independence Day on Sept. 16. Central America celebrates Independence Day on Sept. 15.
I counsel some companies to offer employees the option of taking off their Independence Day or July 4th. Guess what? Many Mexicans actually choose Sept. 16 as their day off. No surprise there, mi amigo.
(By the way, Cinco de Mayo is not on this list and it is not Independence Day in Mexico. It really isn't even that important in Mexico. It is to Corona Beer what Valentine's Day is to Hallmark. Ah, the American marketing machine!)
Special Day Número Siete: Christmas and New YearI put these together because for us, they are together. This is one big party in the Latino world. Parrandas (groups of people going from house to house singing to their friends and family) are very much in vogue here.
Why do your people want to go back home at Christmas? Other than the fact that it is just too cold here in the United States, it is the biggest, best family time of the year. Unless you have spent a Christmas somewhere in Latin America, you simply have not lived. Lots of parties, drinking, music, hugs, everything. Latin America changes, really changes, at Christmastime.
By the way, we'll probably never say “happy holidays” like so many Americans are now doing. It will stay Feliz Navidad y Próspero Año Nuevo for sure. Feliz Navidad means “happy nativity” for those of you who like to understand the meaning of words.
I counsel companies to let your people go. Yes, I sound a bit like Moses here, but that's OK with me. These people work hard, very, very hard. They work long hard hours and don't complain.
Learn to stagger the departures and arrivals of your people so you won't be too affected by this exodus. One thing is for sure: Your Latino workers will always want to go home for Christmas, and not allowing them to do so will only hurt you in the long run. If you have 10 people who want to leave, let five leave right after Thanksgiving and have them come back right after Christmas Day, let the other group leave right before Christmas and come back around the second week of January. This way, you have very little downtime and you keep your people happy and loyal to you. Some companies use this policy as a recruitment tool. Great idea.
These days are the seven perfect opportunities for you to make an indelible and unforgettable cultural statement to your people.
González will be a featured speaker at “Innovative Thinking 2006: Hiring-Training-Retention,” June 12-13, Emerald Pointe Resort, Lake Lanier Island, Ga., a conference developed by the publishers and editors of Plumbing & Mechanical, PM Engineer and Supply House Times. The conference's theme will be on hiring, training and retention in the plumbing industry. González will speak on “Success with Hispanics.” For more information on the Innovative Thinking 2006 conference, visit www.innovativethinkingconf.com.