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Successfully bringing aboard refugee employees requires more than the usual onboarding process. To create an inclusive workplace culture, organizations need a unique approach tied to broader inclusion efforts.
With businesses around the globe facing tight labor markets and aging demographics, as well as a desire to drive corporate social responsibility and social impact initiatives, many leaders are looking to the world’s 25.4 million refugees as potential employees. In addition to supporting a vulnerable population, hiring refugees offers employers a new pool of talent from which to draw new perspectives and drive positive business outcomes.
But integrating refugee employees sometimes requires a different approach than do nonrefugees. As research conducted by Deloitte in collaboration with Tent Partnership for Refugees highlights, successfully employing refugees goes far beyond an initial hiring decision and pointing new workers in the direction of an orientation session. Leaders need to foster a culture of inclusion aimed at unlocking the potential of refugee workers once they hit the ground. See our full-length report, A new home at work, for information on how employers can foster inclusion for refugees in the workplace.
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Research—both from this project and from other publications—shows that many organizations find value in hiring refugees—so long as they successfully foster inclusion.1 Those benefits have included higher rates of retention and recruitment,2 building a potentially valuable recruitment pipeline, increased productivity and innovation across the entire organization,3 stronger overall team performance and team collaboration,4 and a positive public reputation.
Inclusion is the key to realizing that value. While many employers and refugee employees report positive experiences overall, they report challenges as well, especially in the first few months, which are critical for both employer and employee. For example, cultural differences, mismatched roles for the refugees’ skill sets, or simply a different understanding of how day-to-day work gets done can impede successful workplace inclusion.
Employers, then, should consider designing and implementing post-hiring workplace inclusion initiatives that support refugee employees. Defining these inclusion initiatives typically requires an investment up front, in the first few months of a refugee’s employment, which can yield significant long-term benefits for the employer, the new refugee employee, other employees, and the broader organization.
HR executives are no doubt familiar with strategies aimed at creating a workplace culture in which every employee feels as though they connect, belong, and can grow within the organization. But bringing aboard refugee employees can sometimes require a unique approach tied to broader inclusion efforts.
Our report recommends inclusion initiatives focused in six areas:
Preboarding and onboarding. By adapting existing preboarding and onboarding programs, an organization can work to build an inclusive culture and provide refugee employees with tailored information needed to succeed. A comprehensive program, including breakout sessions specifically for refugee employees, can help include and acclimate new employees from different cultures—and even help refugee and nonrefugee employees form genuine connections.
Employee and team readiness. Organizations can benefit from helping employees and teams build an understanding of their refugee colleagues’ backgrounds and what is expected from them when working with refugee employees. Providing employees with the necessary resources to both understand and support their colleagues can help drive cross-cultural interactions and increased engagement across employee groups.
Language translation and development. Employers can offer language translation and development resources to refugee employees, thereby supporting them in navigating the workplace, engaging with colleagues, growing within the organization, and feeling comfortable in their new home (figure 1).
Learning and growth. Organizations can help refugee employees grow by providing access to skill development and certification opportunities, helping them develop new skills, or reinforce existing skills that have become rusty, possibly due to a break from work during resettlement. Investing in professional development is particularly important for refugee employees who often find themselves serving in roles below their skill level. Organizations can also encourage professional growth by exposing refugee employees to opportunities for professional growth, and by connecting them to supportive colleagues and potential mentors.
Community-building. Creating and promoting initiatives focused on building an inclusive culture at the individual and organizational level can increase employee engagement across refugee and nonrefugee employee populations and increase retention. Buddy programs, organizational communities, and broader programming can help refugee employees connect with their colleagues, feel more at home, and begin to overcome the feeling of displacement.
Flexibility and well-being. Designing effective flexibility and well-being solutions—or providing access to those made available by local nonprofits or resettlement agencies—can foster a deeper sense of loyalty to the organization, increasing refugee employee retention rates and driving them to recruit others. For example, flexible work schedules and time-off policies can be enormously helpful for refugee employees who often face exceptional scheduling challenges like immigration appointments.
Even the smallest steps can make meaningful impacts on refugee employees and their employers. By developing an understanding of employees’ backgrounds and recognizing their skills and goals, employers can truly help refugee employees feel welcomed into—and thrive within—the workplace. While refugee employees come from diverse backgrounds and may require unique support to get their footing in new countries and new work environments, they share many of their colleagues’ aspirations, such as the desire to succeed, grow, and build better lives for their families. Employers that recognize this fact and focus on fostering inclusion for their refugee employees will likely improve the experiences of their entire workforce and build a stronger and more connected organization.
Our report aims to help companies bridge the gap between intention and action by offering guiding principles, inclusion initiatives, action steps, case studies, and anecdotes based on research and interviews with refugees, employers, and other experts. By deploying these initiatives, employers have a unique opportunity to improve the lives of refugees while also bettering the businesses in which they work.
For more information, download our full report, A new home at work: An employer's guidebook to fostering inclusion for refugee employees.