Attention: Interpreter Managers


This series is for those of you who manage or lead a team of interpreters. It’s about time you got some help too! Here, and in subsequent posts, we’ll share six steps we’ve found to be essential in creating a great place for medical interpreters to work. It’s good stuff, you’ll want to stay tuned in.

But first, how’d we get here? It seems rather common for interpreters to be hired by medical providers for financial reasons. The demand for interpreter services rises to a point where it becomes more cost-effective to hire the service rather than continue to pay a vendor. Simple enough. And then since we have an interpreter or two, or twenty, on staff, well, someone has to manage them. And that someone is usually a tenured interpreter, an existing department manager, or the unfortunate individual who arrived late to last month’s team meeting. Don’t panic. You’ll figure it out. 

Certainly teams and departments come to fruition in other ways too, but for many interpreter services managers, the responsibility was stumbled upon and patched together rather than the culmination of a meticulously planned and well-executed design. 

But either way, here you are. And now you have the monumental task of keeping a team of professional interpreters happy, engaged, and ever honing their skills. And that’s where work environment becomes so important. 

Any person wants a nice place to work.  It is a deciding factor many consider before accepting a job. And to create an attractive work environment for medical interpreters, it helps to first consider what’s motivating them.

In our experience, medical interpreters are inherently motivated by three things: Tradition, Theory and Pay(Don’t worry, we’ve done quite a bit of research on this topic, but digging into the science of our research will be the subject of later articles. For now, you’ll just have to trust us.)  Tradition means that a person enjoys working within a system that supports people. Theory is a motivator whereby a person is driven to constantly learn.  Of course, professionals are concerned about earning a wage that compensates them for their skill, but money alone won't drive an interpreter to do, or be, better. 

There are also natural behaviors that professional medical interpreters have in common (more stuff we’ve studied). Naturally, interacting with people brings them joy. They also enjoy being a part of, and supporting, a team of people that share a common goal. These are probably pretty obvious, but nonetheless important to keep in mind when you’re assessing the average workdays of your team. If interacting with people and being part of a team are important to your staff, yet due to business demands they’re scarcely allowed opportunities to talk to each other let alone collaborate on best practices or technique, you may be missing a pretty big opportunity to keep your team refreshed and healthy. 

These natural motivators and behaviors are at the core of everything we do. Situations that force us outside of this construct can be very stressful. And in a typical work day interpreters are faced with any number of stressful situations. So before we dig into the tried-and-true best practices, make sure you’re taking the time to understand the individual needs of each person on your team. Learn what drives them and make sure you’re creating opportunities to nurture those values. Remember, the goal is to create a work environment that will minimize burnout and keep your professional interpreters at the ready for any and all upcoming healthcare demands.

Now, with that foundation out of the way, the top six steps to attracting and retaining great interpreters are: 

1. Collaboration
2. Appreciation
3. Resources
4. Compassion
5. Accountability
6. Fun

This may be the topic I’m most passionate about so I look forward to our future dialogue! And please share your ideas and questions in the comments below. 

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Posted on January 29, 2015 and filed under Manager.