There are over 2.2m people employed in New Zealand and close to 600,000 of them are born overseas – that’s 26%. Over the past decade, I’ve enjoyed leading a diverse team who are born locally and overseas. Standard employee coaching and development framework are fundamental essentials, but here are “3C’s” to remember, which can help you to engage and connect with migrant employees at a deeper level.

Tip #1 – Cultural Connection

What is it: Culture is defined as the ideas, customs, and social behaviour of a particular society. The most visible and commonly known form of culture is the celebration of key cultural festivals, such as Lunar New Year, Diwali, Ramadan, Easter and so on.

How to implement it: Make the effort to understand the significance of the key cultural festival, and empower the migrant employee to celebrate together with the team. If the employee is from India, then serve up some Indian delights during Diwali as morning tea and share the story of Diwali. Vice versa, if the employee is Kiwi residing in India, then serve up some Easter eggs. Be inclusive and open to learning and sharing new cultural ideas from your team.

Why it works: Culture embodies deep rooted beliefs and behaviours within oneself. When you connect with someone culturally, you are also connected with them at a much deeper personal level. This results in positive and engaging culture which has a long list of quantified benefits.

Tips for managers: If the cultural date falls on a working day, consider giving your migrant employee at least half a day off, or a full day without using their annual leave. You’ll be amazed how much they appreciate this and they will make up more than the time off.

Tip #2 – Country Connection

What is it: When you ask migrant employees “Where are you from?”, chances are they’ll usually say where they’re born. But not everyone grew up in the country that they’re born. So if you ask “Where do you consider home before New Zealand” that will prompt a different answer. It tells you the country that they care the most about, the country where they keep up to date with the news, or the country where they crave for the local food.

How to implement it: Make the effort to stay up to date with the migrant employee’s country where they called home before New Zealand. This may include setting up weekly Google Alert say on “China”, or learn the basic greetings in Hindi, or look up the top 10 pop artists of Korea on YouTube.

Why it works: Showing that you are interested about their home country indicates you care as a manager. Research indicates that if an employee feels that their manager does not care about them, it eventually becomes one of the main reasons they will leave their role. People want to know that you care – they don’t need to feel like you know everything about them.

Tips for managers: Encourage your migrant employee to connect professionally and socially with those who are from the same country. This can include paying for their professional membership with ASEAN NZ Business Council, or giving them time off to organise social events with other fellow migrants or ex-pat networks in the city.

Tip #3 – Communication Connection

What is it: Communication is key to a good working relationship, yet it is highly complex. Visual, written and audio communication now include email, PowerPoint, video, Twitter and dozens of other social platforms. Combine that with non-verbal communication such as eye contact, gestures and personal space and the cultural nuances start to become increasingly complex when you uncover the differences.

How to implement it: Depending on workplace culture and migrant employees’ background, communication style will need to be tailored to each individual. Best place to start is to get your team to complete a free DISC profile to understand different communication styles, and refer to the concept of mutual acceptance and individualist vs communitarian.

Why it works: Understanding the differences in communication style of any employee helps to build a genuine connection and will go a long way in maximising the individual potential and staff engagement.

Tips for managers: Generally speaking, migrant employees from Asian countries tend to be more reserved in a group setting to show respect for the leader, but this does not mean they are disengaged. Encourage them to contribute to the conversation and you will be surprised how much they have to add.


Understanding your staff is essential for any manager or team leader, but showing an interest in cultural differences will make international staff feel significantly more valued and included, which leads to much higher engagement and retention. With any luck, you’ll enjoy staff bringing sweets or baking from their different cultures into the office for everyone to discover over morning tea.