How You Can Help Fix the Big Literacy Problem at U.S. Businesses Encourage reading activities at your workplace and in the surrounding community to foster productivity and prosperity.

By Amanda Barbara

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

It's well documented that literacy -- or a lack thereof -- affects virtually every aspect of U.S. society, from poverty and crime rates to health care costs.

Unfortunately, in the last 20 years, Americans' reading proficiency has declined in most age groups. A recent study revealed that Americans adults' reading skills are significantly lower than those of adults in other developed countries, which explains why young workers overseas are outperforming their U.S. counterparts.

This is obviously a bad sign for employees, but what's often overlooked is how literacy affects U.S. businesses.

Related: Employees Yearn to Learn. Here's What Employers Can Do to Help.

Poor literacy can have a number of negative effects on an organization. According to the World Literacy Foundation, businesses with poor literacy chart significant losses as a result of needing to correct orders and process refunds and customers turning away the business following poor communication -- not to mention the internal problems that can arise from miscommunication.

On the other hand, highly literate teams communicate more effectively, which promotes efficiency and inspires client trust. The World Literacy Foundation's research on employees who had received language and literacy training revealed that this led to noticeable cost savings, access to further training, improved participation in teams and meetings and increased morale.

Employee literacy doesn't just benefit individual companies, either. It grows the economy as a whole.

According to a study by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, countries where a large percentage of the workforce is employed in jobs requiring greater use of reading skills tend to be more economically productive. Simply put, a smarter worker is a more productive one, and higher productivity positively affects the bottom line and the GDP as a whole.

Related: How Making Employees Lifelong Learners Can Help Your Company Succeed

Promote learning and literacy in the workplace.

Buffer and HubSpot offer their employees unlimited Kindle books, but other companies can tap other low-cost ways to make literacy a priority. Even if everyone on the team is a proficient reader, it's possible to promote learning and cultivate higher-level reading skills in these ways:

1. Send out articles in a daily or weekly email to update employees on industry changes and help them keep current and engaged.

2. Create a monthly book club for interested staffers and incentivize participation by treating the employees involved to lunch. Put someone in charge of organizing the book club and reward her with cash or an American Express gift card.

3. Designate an office book-swap area where employees can share books.

4. Start a summer Friday reading program so that employees are encouraged to read during certain hours.

5. Give back to the community by finding local charities that aligned with the corporate mission. My company strives to help kids without access to literature and prods employees and customers to become involved. This not only promotes the importance of literacy but also fosters a sense of connection with the community.

Related: 14 Books Every Entrepreneur Should Read in '14

How leaders can benefit from reading

The burden of self-education can't rest solely on employees. Leaders need to inspire their teams and stay up-to-date on industry trends. Entrepreneurs should be reading constantly.

As a 26-year-old leader, I've found myself in meetings with executives who have worked in publishing longer than I've been alive. I therefore can't afford not to arm myself with a wealth of knowledge.

Stay abreast of industry trends by reading trade journals and articles and pick up a few books on business and entrepreneurship so as to become a better leader. Certain books have become required reading for entrepreneurs, such as The Lean Startup by Eric Ries, Lean In by Sheryl Sandberg and What Every Angel Investor Wants You to Know by Brian Cohen and John Kador.

Business leaders everywhere are reading these books, and all entrepreneurs should to stay competitive. Plenty of entrepreneurs say they don't have the time. Make time. Without knowledge, whatever a business owner is doing with his or her time could be a waste.

The bottom line: A literate company is an informed company that's better equipped to communicate. Don't let a business fall behind due to a literacy gap.

Related: The Workplace Training Hotbed You May Be Overlooking

Wavy Line
Amanda Barbara

Vice President of Pubslush

Amanda L. Barbara is vice president of New York City-based Pubslush, a company that offers a global crowdfunding publishing platform for the literary world.  

Editor's Pick

'Catastrophic': Here's What You Should Know About the Debt Ceiling Crisis — And How a Default Could Impact Your Business
I Helped Grow 4 Unicorns Over 10 Years That Generated $18 Billion in Online Revenues. Here's What I've Learned.
Want to Break Bad Habits and Supercharge Your Business? Use This Technique.
Don't Have Any Clients But Need Customer Testimonials? Follow These 3 Tricks To Boost Your Rep.
Why Are Some Wines More Expensive Than Others? A Top Winemaker Gives a Full-Bodied Explanation.

Related Topics


The Real Reason Why The Return to Office Movement is Failing is Revealed in New Study

There is a vivid sign of the disconnect between employees and their workplace, a glaring indication that companies need to revise their scripts to improve their hybrid and remote work policies.


Working Remote? These Are the Biggest Dos and Don'ts of Video Conferencing

As more and more businesses go remote, these are ways to be more effective and efficient on conference calls.

Growing a Business

The Best Way to Run a Business Meeting

All too often, meetings run longer than they should and fail to keep attendees engaged. Here's how to run a meeting the right way.

Money & Finance

3 Ways to Create Multiple (Big) Streams of Income

Here are three ways to create multiple streams of income. These strategies require effort and resources but offer significant financial potential.


'That '70s Show' Star Convicted on Two Counts of Rape. He 'Drugged' His Victims.

Danny Masterson was accused of forcibly raping three women at different times between 2001 and 2003. The jury reached a verdict on two counts but was deadlocked on the third.


12 Good Reasons to Explain Why You Left a Job During an Interview

Not sure what to say when asked why you left your last job? Check out these reasons so that you have a great answer on your next interview.