TFW: Going the extra mile

The Toronto Star has been talking about temporary foreign workers as though their presence is a burgeoning blight designed to wrest jobs from Canadians. That’s certainly not an attitude shared by hospitality associations and training bodies across Canad

Colleen Isherwood

Colleen Isherwood

The Toronto Star has been talking about temporary foreign workers as though their presence is a burgeoning blight designed to wrest jobs from Canadians. That’s certainly not an attitude shared by hospitality associations and training bodies across Canada, (see article pages 14-15).

As assistant editor Elaine Anselmi found out while researching her article on skills and training, there’s an employment gap in our industry that can only be filled using a diverse labour pool, including temporary foreign workers.

At the Alberta Hotel & Lodging Association conference held in Lake Louise last month, the discussion was on how employers can better communicate with foreign workers, so that they can engage and retain them.

In a session titled “Going the extra mile,” Josephine Pon of Scotiabank described some of the misconceptions employers and their foreign workers have about their roles, and what can be done to bridge this communications gap. Pon is an immigrant herself; originally from Hong Kong, she came to Canada as a teenager.

When foreign workers arrive in Canada, one of their top priorities is to get to a bank to set up an account so that they can send money home.  A smart move is to pick up the new worker at the airport, take them to a bank and help them set up a bank account.

“It makes them feel good,”said Pon. “They’re here, they can make more money and send it back home. You can also teach them about Internet banking—it all contributes to peace of mind.”

She added that there are many immigrant societies, services and government organizations that can help get the new workers settled.

Pon stressed the need for communications training, and an on-board buddy system to help with the adjustment period and show the workers you care.

But perhaps the most impactful part of her presentation was her example showing some of the misunderstandings that can arise.

Here is a list of complaints from the employer of an internationally trained employee: “My employee doesn’t initiate contact with me. He doesn’t provide timing updates. He’s always late. He doesn’t talk in meetings. He doesn’t respond to managers. He doesn’t prioritize and use effective time management.  He just comes though my door and starts talking to me.  He doesn’t provide data or evidence. He doesn’t have writing skills. He doesn’t understand personal space.”

And here’s the view of the internationally trained employee: “I never see my manager. She doesn’t seem to care about my work. She doesn’t come to my office. I have no feedback—back home my manager checked on me every two hours. My manager doesn’t know my field. She doesn’t recognize my skills. She doesn’t want to promote me. She doesn’t know how to manage.”

In Canada, we don’t micromanage; we give people a job and expect them to do it. But in China and other Asian countries, there’s often a meeting every morning and frequent checks throughout the day.  

“It’s important to have clear expectations up front—that’s extremely important for foreign workers who come from different systems and a different culture,” said Pon. “Use plain, polite, purposeful language.”

Let your foreign workers know how you would like them to communicate, and whether they should set up an appointment when they need to talk to you. Let them know how often they should report on what they’re doing.

“Employees are our greatest asset,” stressed Pon. That’s why it’s so important to go the extra mile and bridge the communications gap.

—Colleen Isherwood, Editor