7 ways to help support your immigrant colleagues

As we head toward World Day for Cultural Diversity on the 21st of May, we’re sharing with you seven ways in which you can help to support your immigrant colleagues …

In 2022, we’re lucky enough to live in an incredibly diverse world, bringing us into contact with people from all walks of life. For many of us, this includes working with people from different countries and cultures who have indefinite leave to remain

Although this can be incredibly enriching for the newcomer, it can also be daunting and uncertain at times. This is especially the case if they’re starting a job in a new country.

As a UK citizen, you’ll want to ensure your colleagues get the best from their time in Britain. So, for some ways to support your immigrant colleagues through this transitional period, and to give them the best from their time in the UK, be sure to keep reading …

7 ways to support your immigrant colleagues

1. Take an interest

Many people make the mistake of assuming that asking an immigrant colleague about their background and their journey will be considered invasive and maybe even offensive. In most cases, this is far from the truth, and the person will welcome the opportunity to offer insights into their life.

You should avoid questions of a personal nature, and those relating to the colleague’s immigration status unless they are open about it themselves. However, asking questions about their culture and background will help you to better understand them as a person and, therefore, be in a better position to offer support.

2. Support language barriers

Communication is incredibly important in any workplace, but this can be tricky if your colleague’s grasp of the workplace’s common language is poor. In this instance, your colleague will often be working hard to learn the language and may start to feel disillusioned when they are unable to understand work communications. 

Supporting your colleague with language and communication can be as simple as, for example, following a meeting or memo, asking them if they understood the directives and offering to help where you can.

Similarly, your colleague may come from a country where the work culture is very different. In this instance, you can help by gently steering them toward content and information which may better inform them about the guidelines and culture within your company. 

3. Read, learn, listen

If your immigrant colleague is from a country which is experiencing military action or upheaval, it’s likely that there will be stories about their country on the news and in the media. 

Although it’s a good idea to keep up with news reports to gain an understanding of what’s going on, it’s important to remain mindful of the fact that your colleague may see things differently than the stories being reported in the news in your country. Be sure to bear this in mind when making conversation.

4. Sharing is caring

We’ve mentioned that your colleague may welcome the chance to discuss their background, but what they probably don’t want to do is to constantly repeat their story. You can help here by sharing salient facts with other colleagues in order to enlighten them about your colleague’s journey without forcing them to have the same conversation over and over again.

Remember, though, that there’s a fine line between sharing and gossip, so be sure to structure your conversations without gossiping.

5. Leave your assumptions at the door

Many of us have grown up with preconceived ideas about immigration, and the reasons that somebody may choose to leave their homeland. In reality, there are many different reasons which may result in somebody claiming immigrant status. So, it’s important to always keep an open mind.

Some reasons can be sensitive, so be aware they might not have had a choice and approach the subject sensitively (if it’s brought up by them!). To this end, try to put aside anything you may have heard about your colleague’s country, some of which may be incorrect.

6. Ask their opinions

There’s a good chance that your immigrant colleague will be used to very different ways of working. Some of which may actually be more efficient than those which exist at your company. 

Unfortunately, as a ‘guest’ in the country, they may feel reluctant to speak up. You can do your bit by actively asking your colleague’s opinion on day to day matters in the workplace in order to make them feel involved and empowered enough to venture their opinion.

7. Celebrate personal wins with them

When speaking with an immigrant, we sometimes have a tendency to believe that their immigration status is a taboo subject which should never be mentioned. While you should, of course, retain sensitivity when discussing the topic, there may be times when your colleague has received good news about their status, or is marking a milestone.

At times like this, it is absolutely okay to help them to celebrate these milestones; even in simple ways such as bringing in a cake. It’s also a good idea to alert management to these events so that they can be added to the company calendar in the same ways that employee birthdays would be.

Immigration is far from simple, but supporting your colleagues is! 

In the UK, we hear the word ‘immigration’ in the news on an almost daily basis, and it’s all too easy to make assumptions based on journalist’s opinions and chatter on social media.  However, immigration is incredibly complex and evolving, and many people become immigrants because they simply have no other choice. 

Because of this, supporting immigrant colleagues as they adapt to life in a new country is absolutely essential, and can make a huge difference to their day to day lives. Striking a balance between interest and plain nosiness is also important, though. The way to do this is to take your cue from your immigrant colleague while making it clear that you’re there for them.

Photo by Kyle Glenn on Unsplash.