The journey of immigrating to a new country can be overwhelming. And not just the moving process, but what happens post-arrival. The feeling of inclusion – or lack thereof – in a newcomer’s new environment, and how it affects their psychological well-being as they work to build a life and meaningful employment is worthy of exploration. Often times, these periods can be rife with uncertainty and volatility which are drivers for anxiety and when sustained, depression.

It is inherent for employers to acknowledge the importance of developing an inclusive community and workplace cultural competencies for their employees. With nearly half of our city’s population born outside the country, diversity is not enough; we need to be inclusive – we must proudly celebrate and welcome our differences.

A large portion of Canadian newcomers come as economic immigrants who are highly skills with many years of experience as professionals – and often with advanced degrees. However, unemployment and underemployment is an issue we are seeing in large scale in our province. A report released by the Institute for Competitiveness & Prosperity in June 2017 showed that immigrant professionals’ incomes would increase by $15.2 billion – the equivalent to 2.0 percent of Ontario’s GDP – if they earned wages that actually reflected their skills and experience. At TRIEC, we know that underemployment is a challenge that newcomers face as many are forced to take on survival jobs. These jobs are well below their skills, experience, and expertise and therefore do not provide the necessary financial, intellectual, psychological or emotional satisfaction that they once realized in their home countries. This new experience can become the lens by which our newcomers identify themselves, affecting their sense of acceptance, well-being, and belonging. This can have costly emotional and psychological implications, and can lead to loss of creativity, poor engagement, and performance.

While organizations like TRIEC works to close this gap so that all immigrant professionals find meaningful employment that actually matches their skills, knowledge, and expertise, there are other initiatives that employers can lead to do their part to ensure psychological safety and well-being for their workers. Here are 4 of 13 psycho-social factors to consider from Guarding Minds at Work that can frame the activities an organization might pursue to meet the demands of psychological safety and belonging for all employees:

  • Create an organizational culture that supports a growth mindset. Encourage curiosity and inquiry in your interactions that lay the foundation for trust, civility, honesty, respect and fairness.
  • Establish a workplace where there is a high degree of involvement and influence so that employees are included in important discussions about their work, the organization, and decision making processes. They will then feel that their efforts and contributions are more valued.
  • Design a work environment where employees receive encouragement and championed support to grow and develop their competencies, interpersonal, emotional and job skills that prepare them for future roles.
  • Build team dynamics that allow for high quality connections that demonstrate psychological protection for members to feel able to put themselves on the line to ask questions, seek feedback, report mistakes, or propose new ideas without the fear of negative consequences.

In order for our newcomers to most effectively contribute to their full potential, we need to move beyond diversity and the status quo of basic accommodation and step into the space of full inclusion that fits everyone’s need for acceptance and belonging.

Kerri Brock is an employer relations manager at TRIEC and an active practitioner of Positive Psychology.
Daniel Kim is a communications and media relations specialist with TRIEC.