When language is an issue

For employees who are from other countries or do not speak English as a first language, language and cross-cultural issues can affect their performance. New Zealand culture, accent, idiom, humour and ways of doing things can be confusing to a newcomer – especially those who are from a non-English speaking background.

New Zealand English can also be challenging for someone who has been here 15 or 20 years but lived and worked largely within their ethnic community, or worked in a low-skilled occupation where there has been little need for formal written or spoken communication.

Without support, migrant employees may struggle to:

  • communicate with colleagues and customers
  • integrate into the team
  • understand what is required of them on the job
  • handle paperwork with ease and confidence
  • understand health and safety risks
  • have the confidence to speak up in team meetings
  • work to their full potential.

New migrant employees

Tips for how you can help. There are simple things you can do to support new migrant employees.

  • Manage expectations. If you have recruited a skilled person from overseas, their move requires planning. The better prepared people are for life here, the easier the transition will be.
  • Be understanding. Moving to a new country, a new job, and new ways of doing things can be challenging. Some people settle in quickly. Others take more time.
  • Provide family support. A happy, settled family means a happy, settled employee. Information on settling in, housing, schools and job opportunities for their partner can make a big difference.
  • Provide a buddy. Nominate a staff member to take the new employee ‘under their wing’.
  • Talk often. Regular chats between you, your new employee and the rest of your team can ‘nip in the bud’ small conflicts that might otherwise grow.
  • Take an interest. Creating situations where overseas employees can teach you about their native culture will pay dividends. It makes them feel valued and fosters cultural understanding.
  • Seek help. If English language issues are causing problems, there is government-funded ESOL (English for Speakers of Other Languages) help available. Here's a simple summary of the available funding options.

Resources for employers

Immigration New Zealand’s Settlement Unit offers resources for employers to support new migrant employees.

  • Helping migrant employees to settle – Immigration New Zealand website.
  • Worktalk  – is a tool designed to improve communication between New Zealand employers and new migrant employees from other cultures  (Immigration New Zealand website).

English for employees resources

  • English for Migrants: This government-funded programme enables migrants to participate in English language courses, helping them settle into communities and work.