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Why our migrant workers need extra support during Covid-19

With the number of Covid-19 infections increasing globally, migrants living and working in New Zealand need increased support from their employers as they deal with heightened fear, distress and guilt caused by anxiety about the families they have left behind.

Diversity Works New Zealand Chief Executive Maretha Smit says it’s evident from conversations with migrants and the agencies working to support them and employers that this is a very stressful time for anyone concerned about loved ones living in another country.

“Personally, I have experienced high levels of anxiety and guilt in respect of my elderly parents who are not in an environment where they are safe from the virus. I worry about not being able to visit them in the event of a crisis, and I have started a bad habit of having my phone next to my bed in order to be available across the time zones if necessary – which does not always make for a good night’s rest.”

Diversity Works New Zealand worked with Counselling Psychologist Matthew Kalloor and Belong Aotearoa CEO Rochana Sheward to put together some strategies for employers supporting migrants.

  • Remember that everyone, including migrants, experience the pandemic differently so there is no ‘one size fits all’ solution. It’s important to come alongside your team member and offer support in meaningful and practical ways rather than dictating or directing solutions.
  • Check in regularly with staff members who have family overseas and refer them to organisations that can provide advice or coping strategies. Belong Aotearoa has links to Covid-19 support for migrants on its website.
  • Understand that being unable to travel home to support sick or elderly family members can create feelings of guilt, helplessness and even despair. This could impact work behaviours or outputs.
  • If a team member can’t return home to mourn the death of a loved one, it’s important for employers to find out how they can support them in a culturally appropriate way.
  • Appreciate that the economic impact of the pandemic may mean migrants are concerned about the financial situation of family back home or are even sending money home, putting a strain on their own finances.
  • Be aware that time differences may mean people are up late, talking to family or waiting for news from home, resulting in sleep disruption. If necessary, look at whether work hours or responsibilities can be adjusted to accommodate people’s needs.
  • Look at how the wider team can support migrant colleagues - research in organisational psychology shows that individual autonomy is strengthened by the positive impacts of being part of a safe, well-managed team

Read the full story on the Diversity Works New Zealand website.