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English for the Workplace: The Importance of English Language Skills for Effective Performance

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Abstract

This paper has been published in The English Classroom, ISSN 2250-2831, Vol-20, Number 1, June 2018 As the international business language, English is becoming more important in both native and non-native English-speaking countries. This paper aims to find out the importance of English in workplace by conducting a survey among employees of different companies in India. The results show that the necessity of English language skills in workplace hasn't changed and the participants have reiterated the role of English as the influencing factor during interviews and at workplace. In addition, it has been found that poor English communication skills can hamper the attempts of finding a good job. Moreover, participants emphasized the need for in-house English training for improvement of skills required to perform their duties. Among all the skills, speaking has been considered the most important skill in workplace and majority accepted that they needed to improve their speaking skills and online training has been preferred by most of the participants as the favorite mode.
1
This paper has been published in the journal The English Classroom, ISSN 2250-2831, Vol-20, Number
1, June 2018
English for the Workplace: The Importance of English Language Skills for Effective
Performance
Authors:
A. Clement, SRM University, Chennai Email: aloyclement@gmail.com
T. Murugavel, Sri Venkateshwara College of Engineering,Chennai
Email: mcwhale@svce.ac.in
Abstract
As the international business language, English is becoming more important in both native and
non-native English-speaking countries. This paper aims to find out the importance of English in
workplace by conducting a survey among employees of different companies in India. The results
show that the necessity of English language skills in workplace hasn’t changed and the
participants have reiterated the role of English as the influencing factor during interviews and at
workplace. In addition, it has been found that poor English communication skills can hamper the
attempts of finding a good job. Moreover, participants emphasized the need for in-house English
training for improvement of skills required to perform their duties. Among all the skills, speaking
has been considered the most important skill in workplace and majority accepted that they
needed to improve their speaking skills and online training has been preferred by most of the
participants as the favorite mode.
Introduction
2
The role of English language in career advancement is undeniable in this era of globalization.
Though English language proficiency is not the only criterion for career development, its
importance in the corporate world is widely recognized. It is so obvious in countries like India
how lack of English language skills affects the career prospects of many young graduates.
Though low-paying jobs may not require advanced level of English proficiency, many
organizations expect the graduates to possess intermediate level of language proficiency to carry
out their responsibilities. Today many research reports emphasize the relationship between
English and employability all over the world. Due to the globalised market, employees need to
have day-to-day business dealings and communication with executives from different parts of the
world. Activities like emails, online chat, business presentations require ‘above average’
language skills in order to have unambiguous and clear-cut transfer of information to all
participants.
Many research studies conducted in various Asian countries have identified that English helps
improve job performance and boosts the prospects of promotion. Ojanperä Miina (2014) points
out that poor English language skills slows down flow of effective communication, causes
misinterpretation, create frustration and create barriers among the employees. In the corporate
world, English is the most regularly used language and the knowledge of English has become
one of the most important employability skills. Proper English does not mean only the ability to
make grammatically correct sentences but also the other related skills for effective
communication like presentation skills, convincing and negotiation skills and interpersonal skills
using English. Due to the global market, the requirements of English language is likely to
increase every year and employees without adequate English language skills may find it very
challenging to grow professionally.
3
Literature Review
According to the EF English Proficiency Index for Companies 2016, companies like Coca Cola
HBC Russia, MMK, Swiss Technology group RUAG, Kaspersky Lab offer English language
proficiency training courses to improve the proficiency of language skills. Education First offers
the training programs through classroom teaching, via Skype and self-study programs.
According to this report, after entering into strategic partnerships with EF, the companies
witnessed striking improvement in their employees’ English proficiency. According to Alina
Lukash, Manager of Training and Development, Coca Cola HBC Russia that employees with
high potential are identified and the company makes investments for the enhancement of skills
including English proficiency. The Swiss technology group RUAG conducts regular English
language evaluation for its workforce. Philipp Lutz, People Development Manager at RUAG
Corporate Services is of the opinion that enhancing employees’ English skills boosts the
company’s competitive position. The English language training initiatives by companies clearly
point out the indispensable role of English for betterment of companies as well as employees.
According to a British Council report (Elizabeth J. Erling ,2014), English language skills are
extremely rewarded in the labor market. It also emphasizes that skills in English have a
constructive impact on economic growth. Another report by the Economist (2013: 3) presents
that English language skills will augment the efficiency of employees in sectors like business
process outsourcing and hospitality.
English at Work: global analysis of language skills in the workplace (2016) survey results reveal
that English language skills are important for over 95% of employers in many non-native
English-speaking countries. There is a plethora of English requirements in countries where
4
English is not a native or official language, with 7% of job tasks requiring native-level English,
49% requiring advanced English, 33% requiring intermediate English and 8% requiring basic
English. The results found that in every industry, there is a gap between the English language
skills required and the skills that are actually available. Amusingly, there is no difference
between large, medium-sized and small employers. Across all company sizes there is at least a
40% skills gap. The findings are founded on data from 5,373 employers in 38 countries that
completed the annual QS Global Employer Survey.
Tsedal Neeley, Associate Professor of Harvard Business School and the founder of the
consulting firm Global Matters, in his article emphasizes that the need to synchronize tasks and
work with customers and partners globally has expedited the move toward English as the official
language of business no matter where companies are headquartered. In addition, he has listed out
principal reasons of why companies have to consider English as a corporate standard;
Competitive pressure, globalization of tasks and resources, M&A integration across national
boundaries. If English is not given importance, companies may find it difficult to interact with
customers, suppliers and business partners. Geographically dispersed employees of a company
need to interact with one another to make important decisions and English becomes the natural
means of effective communication. One can imagine the consequences caused by poor English
skills of employees while making crucial decisions in business.
Towers Watson’s 2009/2010 Communication ROI Study Report claims that efficient employee
communication is a foremost indicator of financial performance and a motivator of employee
engagement. Also, companies that are greatly effective communicators had a massive 47 per cent
higher total return to shareholders. This exemplifies the need for effective communication in
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English language in workplace due to the globalised market.
According to a study commissioned by the Department of Education, Employment and
Workplace Relations, Government of Australia, English Language Proficiency (ELP) was
interpreted as the ability to use English for different tasks relevant to different professional and
vocational fields. The report informs that some university and vocational education and training
providers have introduced subjects where ELP for the workplace is taught and assessed. This is a
positive step forward in addressing employer apprehension concerning the communications skills
of graduates.Chloe Gan, HR Director of Arvato Systems, Malyasia says that employees with a
reasonable standard of English can interact and connect with their colleagues more effectively.
In 1978, Johnson & Johnson (J&J), an American manufacturer of a wide range of health care
goods, established a Japanese subsidiary, Johnson & Johnson K.K. (J&J K.K.). Because J&J
K.K. has robust rapport with foreign enterprises, including its parent company in the USA, the
ability to effectively communicate in English is very significant, especially for executives. In
2000, the medical company adopted a promotion policy based on TOEIC test scores. The score
standards were set according to each job and category. Newly recruited employees are also given
the TOEIC test to improve their English proficiency. The company has witnessed remarkable
improvement in the English proficiency of employees which enables the company to be a more
competitive player in the global market.
In fact, many organizations, such as Finnish Telecom giant NOKIA and German software
company SAP, use English as their official language. Moreover, most governments and
prominent educational institutions lay greater importance on English as a preferred means of
communication.
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This research work aims to deal with the following questions:
1. How important is the proficiency of English language for graduates to find suitable
employment?
2. Which English language skills are considered important by the employees to perform
their job responsibilities?
3. What kind of English training is required to improve their skills?
Methodology
The target participants of this survey were corporate employees in order to understand their
perspective of English language proficiency at workplace. The survey was sent to employees
with one or two years of experience in any sector irrespective of their roles. Overall, 39
employees responded to the survey. The survey collected information such as gender, age,
qualification, designation, industry. Among the participants, 39.5% of them were women and
60.5% of respondents were men. 71% of the respondents were aged between 20-30, 23% of them
were aged between 31-40 and 6% of them were between 41-50. As far as the qualifications of the
participants are concerned, 40% of them were engineering graduates, 37% of them were arts and
science graduates and the rest had other different qualifications. Moreover, majority of the
respondents were from IT and ITES (Information Technology Enabled Services). The
designations of the candidates were IT administrators, project managers, content writers, quality
analysts, system administrators etc.
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Results of the survey
Survey Question
Strongly
Agree
(%)
Agree
(%`)
Indecisive
(%)
Disagree
(%)
Strongly
Disagree
(%)
1. Poor communication skills in
English impair the chances of
recruitment during interviews.
50
47.4
0
2.6
0
2. I am happy with my English
language skills.
13.2
81.6
0
2.5
2.7
3. English language skill
influences my career in many
aspects.
60.5
39.5
0
0
0
4. English language skills are
mandatory for finding suitable
job.
50
44.7
3.2
0
2.1
5. I need to improve my language
skills in some aspects.
50
44.7
0
4.2
1.1
6. Language training programs
are to be conducted in
companies to improve quality
of language skills.
36.8
57.9
2.6
2.6
0
8
7. College education system must
focus on English skills
required for employability.
26.3
28.9
5.3
7.9
31.6
8. I was trained effectively by my
English professors in college.
5.2
31.6
13.2
39.5
10.5
9. Companies must invest money
on improving language skills
that are necessary in my
workplace.
28.9
57.9
7.9
2.2
3.1
10. Which is your area of weakness?
Speaking
Writing
Listening
Vocabulary
44.4 %
25 %
22.2 %
2.8%
11. Which skills is the most important in your work?
Speaking
Writing
Reading
Listening
86.8%
47.4%
28.9%
50%
12. Are you willing to spare your time and money for improving your language skills?
9
YES 50%
NO 50%
13. Which mode of training is suitable for you?
Online 43.2%
Classroom 29.7%
One to one 27%
When asked about the order of the importance of language skills in workplace, speaking skill
was chosen by most respondents (86.8%), listening (50%), writing (47.4%) and reading (28.9%).
44.4% of respondents chose speaking skill as their weakness or area of improvement. 50%
participants were willing to spare their time and money for improvement of their language skills.
It was agreed by 97.4% of respondents that lack of English language skills harm the
opportunities of employment during interview discussions. All respondents have agreed that
English skills influence their career in many aspects. 94.7% of participants agreed that English
skills are mandatory in finding suitable jobs.
50% of the participants felt that they were not trained well by their professors in college and 55%
of respondents wanted English for Employability to be included in college education system.
Written Comments of participants
The participants had the option of writing down their opinions with regards to English language
skills. Participants conveyed that English is the language which helps them to communicate
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wherever they go. Some said that one should be bold and confident enough to speak without
worrying about the error and pronunciation. Today's IT industry requires a person to be able to
communicate with the customers and stakeholders in English. On most occasions, they are
required to give presentations or business reviews for business units outside India that call for
better speaking and writing English skills. Undoubtedly, English skills play a mandatory role in
today's world. Every participant agreed that English language skill is the backbone of each
employee. A VLSI engineer pointed out that it's really important to have all the four (Read,
Write, Speak & Listen) English skills to have a healthy work environment and to meet the
functionality of the design in the field of Very Large Scale Integration and electronics. The
absence of any of these above skills would result in an ambiguous design (design might be a
circuit or a chip).
Some participants reiterated the importance of English during interviews. Post globalization,
communication in English is no more an option but a compulsory one. However strong an
employee in his technical skills, he/she has to exhibit the strengths using language proficiency
during the interview process. Moreover, one has to comprehend/interpret the interviewer's
language/strong vocabulary used during the interview to test the candidate's proficiency in
language. One participant said that once you reach a leadership position, the need for effective
language skills becomes obligatory. A person may be good at the technical work but to sell the
idea or product to the clients, English communication plays a crucial role. Some participants said
that in countries like India, English skills are necessary for their survival in the corporate world.
Companies prefer employees with better communication skills while sending them abroad for
projects. Many respondents view oral communication skill as the most important one as they
need to interact in English language every day. Moreover, English language training is not
11
offered in their companies but the participants showed interest in enrolling in such courses that
would help them improve English skills.
Discussion
Fluent and proficient English speaking is considered important for many job profiles as most of
the corporate communication happens in English in India. This ability to express ideas without
ambiguity and the ability to comprehend are necessary for successful interview interaction.
97.4% of the participants have agreed that poor English communication skills harm the
possibility of getting recruited during job interviews. Getting stuck due to lack of educated
vocabulary could embarrass the candidate who is looking for a better job opportunity during the
job interview. Using wrong tenses may confuse the interviewer and affect the communication
process. A professional may belong to any field but the ability to use the right word at the right
time will enhance the effective and convenient communication. In addition, all the participants of
the survey have accepted that English skills affect their career in many aspects. Around half of
all employers offer a better starting salary to candidates with good English language skills, which
can also lead to faster headway through job grades and higher salary increases. The survey by
QS and Cambridge English reports that the vast majority of employers in Ukraine (83%) along
with 80% in China and 79% in Iraq offer additional benefits to employees who possess who
language skills.
David Malon (2012) says that competent communications happen when the maximum amount of
a message is delivered and understood successfully at minimum cost. Effective business
communications can be as simple as writing an effective email to guarantee that a business task
is correctly allocated and performed, or as complex as how to negotiate a billion-dollar business
12
deal with individuals from a different cultural background.
94.7% of participants have agreed that English language training programs must be conducted by
the companies and 86.8% of respondents said that the companies must invest money on
improving language skills of the employees. According to a Harvard Review article many
multinational companies are directing English as the common corporate language in an effort to
ease communication and performance across geographically diverse functions and business
endeavors i.e. Airbus, Daimler-Chrysler, Fast Retailing, Nokia, Renault, Samsung, SAP,
Technicolor, and Microsoft in Beijing. Many companies offer English training programs to their
employees to improve their performance. Hence, employees with good business language skills
will be entrusted with higher responsibilities and also can progress faster to a higher position
with lucrative income.
Top multinational organizations have started noticing the gap between the employees’ language
proficiency levels and the requirements of the companies. In Saudi Arabia, the government has
made its policy known to international companies that they have to employ Saudis and help them
improve their English language skills, and even fund such training courses. Researches have
proved that if employees feel that their personal and professional growth are valued often have a
strong sense of loyalty to their company, and tend to engage more productively with their work.
The survey results show that among all the skills speaking’ is considered the most important
skill and around 44% of the respondents have accepted that speaking in English is their
weakness. This result proves that oral communication remains the top skill at workplace. Oral
communication is the ability to interact with others, to give and exchange information & ideas
i.e. meetings, presentations, conversations. Oral communication skills need to be effective in
order to solve problems, negotiate solutions or make decisions.
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The participants prefer online training as the most preferred mode due to their busy schedule at
the workplace.
Conclusion
This investigation was undertaken to understand the importance of English language skills
required for performing responsibilities at the workplace by the employees working in various
sectors. The results of the study have revealed that the employees are convinced that English
language skills are required for getting a job and performing their responsibilities effectively.
Irrespective of the technical skills an employee possesses, he/she needs to possess language skills
in order to communicate to others effectively through emails, group discussions, presentations
etc. In addition, the necessity of imparting in-house language training programs is emphasized by
the employees preferably through online mode.
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Importance of English in employment
  • Deccan Herald
Deccan Herald. (2017). Importance of English in employment. [online] Available at: http://www.deccanherald.com/content/249714/importance-english-employment.html [Accessed
The Role of English in Skills Development in South Asia: Policies, Interventions and Existing Evidence
  • J Erling
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