Helping hand for migrant employees


Last updated 05:00 19/11/2012

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Small Business

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Q: I have recently taken a leap of faith and employed a migrant who has the right technical skills for the business but needs to improve his English and cultural understanding of NZ. What can I do to help him fit in to the business?

A: This is a big question for startup and SMEs these days as more and more talent starts to come in from developing countries. Bringing someone into your company culture in a productive way is critical and deserves time and planning.  

Firstly, lean heavily on the benefit of the doubt. Communication is key in small teams, and in this case communication is one of the biggest challenges. Take time to talk at length with your new hire, and not just about work. Establishing a platform for clear and open communication between you, your new team member and the rest of your team is critical from the outset. Patience is central here, a regular dialogue removes pressure and anxiety when real critical issues need to be discussed.

Understand what they want too. Likely they will take great satisfaction from improving their English and becoming more 'Kiwi'. But ask them what they hope for, what they like about their new home and what they want to do with your company. Going further and setting up a situation where they can teach you about their native culture will help them feel like they are contributing, feeling listened to and will break down real and perceived barriers within the team.

Create situations outside of work where they feel comfortable and can organically assimilate into the local environment. But give back too, either formally by taking an hour a week to help them directly with their English for example or helping them away from work, like moving house, or navigating the school system for their kids.

By making your business the most comfortable place they know in their new home, they will relax and work better, and you'll get more engagement. This fosters productivity and the initiative to innovate and improve the business - just what you want from your technical leads.

- Nick Churchouse is the Venture Manger at Creative HQ, Wellington's entrepreneurship hub and startup incubator

A: Be upfront with both the new employee and existing staff about the issue. Encourage existing staff to help the new person through the transition.

Likewise have the conversation with the new employee that they need to invest in accelerating their transition into your work environment.

Make sure that you get him working him in a team situation, rather than operating by themselves.

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Encourage him to engage in extra mural activities that will continue to challenge and develop his communications skills.

I know of one case where the immigrant went to Toastmasters which had great results.

There are also cultural adaption specialists.

- Mark Robotham is an SME business adviser. Website:  

- If you want to ask our experts a question, please email


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