Easing culture shock: helping new migrant staff get settled

September 2016

INsite recently published an article on the importance of migrant workers to New Zealand’s aged care sector. Here, Skilled Migrant Business Advisor LISA BURDES discusses how employers can help new migrant staff settle into work and life in New Zealand, and Canterbury in particular.


Culture shockThe face and accent of Canterbury is changing. New migrants from all over the world have come to help with the rebuild and, for many, to settle into a new life in New Zealand. While this injection of global talent is new to many employers in the trades and construction sectors, it is not a novel experience for those recruiting and employing in the aged care sector.

Despite the length of time that aged care providers have been employing in this market, it can still be a challenge to settle and retain migrant staff. Good employers have recognised that sound settlement practices lead to happy new migrants, a stable workforce, and ultimately high retention rates. 

Successful settlement is a two-way process. While there is an expectation that new migrants will arrive armed with the necessary skills, experience, and attitude to fit into the New Zealand life and work culture, the role of the employer is one of the most important. Employers should be thinking about how to provide settlement support well before the new migrant touches down.

Communication with the healthcare worker while offshore can include such things as providing a cost of living comparison and a warning about how cold houses in New Zealand can be in winter.

Nuts and bolts

Getting it right at the start is crucial for employers. Upon arrival, it’s important to put time and resources into enabling your new migrant employees to find their bearings and be able to concentrate on the ‘nuts and bolts’ of setting up their new lives.

These nuts and bolts may include registering with a doctor, opening up bank accounts, enrolling children in schools, and orientating themselves with their new local community. All this takes time and energy, and for those who have no existing support systems in the region, employer support is vital.

New migrants, regardless of the country of origin, do need some extra time and energy invested in them. Set up a buddy system, provide a welcome kit with important contact details and local information, help with transport, and ensure that they are aware of the unique New Zealand road rules and driving conditions. Even those migrants who have been in New Zealand for some time will appreciate any advice and information.

Remember existing staff

Keep your existing Kiwi workers in mind throughout the process. Be prepared to answer questions and concerns from your current staff, especially if they have never worked with new migrants before. Encouraging social contact between the new and existing employees, particularly in those first few weeks, can go a long way to making everyone more comfortable. 

Some of your residents may struggle with being looked after by migrant workers. Prepare your new employees for the possibility of older residents (particularly those with dementia) exhibiting challenging behaviour and language due to their culture. Give them strategies to cope in these situations.

Communication is one of the biggest hurdles for new migrants to this country. Speak a little slower, and don’t assume that just because they speak English well that they fully understand us – the Kiwi accent and unique language can be confusing! Encourage your new employees to speak slowly too if you are having trouble understanding them.

Helpful resources

Immigration New Zealand (INZ) recognises the aged care sector as a leading employer of new migrants. In response, two guides have been developed; one for employers and another for new migrant employees.

The guide Are you employing migrant workers in aged care? provides information for employers about understanding the benefits and challenges of employing migrants, how to prepare for the arrival of the new workers, and advice on how to ensure successful settlement and retention of your new employees. There are useful, practical tips for employers around such issues as cultural differences and communication challenges.

The aged care workers’ guide Working in aged care in New Zealand provides essential information about what it’s like to work in an aged care facility in this country, and tips and advice around differing terminology, employment practices, and support services. There is also useful information about the cost of living and New Zealand work habits, as well as the cultural differences that new migrants will encounter. 

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