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Hiring Refugees for a Diverse Workplace Culture

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Editor’s Note: This is a guest post by Chris Chancey, CEO and Founder at Amplio Recruiting. His opinions are his own.

We talk a lot about diversity in the workplace — how it contributes to more satisfying teamwork, better productivity, and increasingly informed decision making, for starters. With my team at Amplio Recruiting, I’m fortunate enough to reap those rewards every single day — through refugee teammates.

Refugee workers have fled their native countries to escape war, persecution, and natural disasters. Many left behind successful careers, years of training and education, and well-loved homes. Now, they’re ready to start over. They’re seeking the next great adventure: rebuilding a robust, fulfilling life with rewarding work, and they’re taking it seriously.

“They not only show up, they’re there early.”

Dedicated, dependable, reliable: the refugee workforce does not take opportunity for granted, and that kind of engagement is infectious. For our friends at Storr Office Environments in Raleigh, North Carolina, that makes the difference between struggling to escape the same tired problems and running a vibrant, thriving business.

Field Team Lead Cody told us, “I’ve been having a ball working with them. They’re not only the nicest people I’ve ever met in my life—they’re so willing to help, and so willing to learn…They not only show up on time, they’re there early. Their willingness to help is what really shines over every other staffing company. They’re willing to stay late, while keeping a big smile.”

In response to their new employees’ enthusiasm, Storr has paid to bring in an instructor to offer an English training course so that the entire team can understand each other better. Sounds like everyone wins, doesn’t it?

“If you don’t work hard, you’re not going to get it.”

Kisembo Kyaligonaz grew up in refugee camps — he has no memory of his native Congo, and the terror and violence that chased his family to find a new home. He arrived in America speaking only Swahili, barely 18 years old and aged out of American high school.

Like his fellow refugee workers, Kisembo had endured too much to give up. He learned English, earned a GED, and gathered key electrical skills training before landing a permanent job doing specialized installs with Accessories Unlimited in Atlanta.

Motivated, hard working, and proud to be a part of his company, his work ethic is something to admire. And it’s certainly one we want on our team.

“I’ve got a melting pot on my shift.”

Before reaching out to hire refugees, production manager Orlando Morrow at Gourmet Foods International just wanted to get people to fill his shifts.

“Every week I would go through 8 or 9 people. Turnover was, like, 90%. It was straining my full-time employees,” he told us.

In just six months, refugee teammates had done more than merely fill shifts — they brought a whole new level of diversity to the team. He embraced the wisdom so well said by Accenture CEO Julie Sweet: “If business leaders want employees to be successful, they must cultivate a workplace that’s diverse and inclusive.”

For Morrow, that meant zero tolerance with stereotypes, racism, or skepticism when he welcomed refugee workers — and it started with the management. Now his team has become like family — and they’re happier and more productive for it.

“It’s great to see. They work together, eat together, do outside social functions. They’re mixing outside of work, learning [each other’s] cultures, too.”

“73% reported higher retention.”

There’s simply nothing worse than high employee turnover: as Orlando Morrow and countless other managers can attest, it strains time, energy, and morale. It costs money, thwarts plans, and pushes existing staff well beyond what they should be required to do.

Negativity spreads, blame overflows, and innovation disappears under the struggle to stay afloat.

In a study conducted by the Fiscal Policy Institute and the Tent Partnership for Refugees, they found that retention isn’t merely a non-issue with refugee workers — it’s actually incredibly high. 73% of the companies surveyed reported a significantly higher retention rate for refugees, with two clear ways that employers benefit from this diverse workforce.

  • No matter the industry surveyed, the turnover rate for refugees came in between a fifth and two thirds lower for refugees than for the overall employee pool. Data included everything from meatpacking to the hotel and hospitality sector — a pretty wide-ranging set of data.
  • Once an employer opens the door for positive relationships with the first few refugee workers, the possibility is increasingly open to recruit others. Those companies who put in the extra effort to make the refugee workforce comfortable and successful are repaid tenfold in dedicated, efficient, and loyal work.

“Hiring refugees isn’t rocket science — but it’s not magic either.”

The Amplio Team is beyond lucky to work with so many inviting companies, and we admire their hard work. We’ve seen it in real time, and we’ve seen the numbers in studies like FPI’s: while the refugee workforce offers unmatched dedication, enthusiasm, and loyalty, this talent also demands high quality from their management.

Sometimes, that extra effort is in language programs or standing up against racism. Sometimes it means offering a “floating paid holiday schedule” since Christmas may not mean the same thing to everyone. Sometimes it’s including family in company celebrations, or inviting a team for potlucks to build unity among coworkers from mixed cultures.

That extra work from management builds clear communication, respect, loyalty, and community amongst the whole team — morale skyrockets, and productivity reaches unmatched levels.

In conclusion, reach out — gain more.

I love bringing refugee workers to companies that will help them succeed, because I know everyone involved will win. I know how much these talented people have to offer, and the stories from our partners always prove me right — their dedication, commitment, and willingness to achieve are unmatched.

But that’s not all. In my time spend dedicated to empowering the refugee workforce, I’ve learned so very much about communication. From navigating holidays to understanding families, it’s so essential to let people know you genuinely want to learn more about them. To be clear that you respect their culture, and that you’re curious and interested. These are the conversations that build great modern workplaces — they make diversity an essential part of our professional fabric, and of our collective success.

Chris Chancey

Chris Chancey is the founder of Amplio Recruiting, a staffing agency based in Atlanta, Georgia that specializes in staffing great companies with the dependable refugee workforce. Chris has a degree in Business Stewardship and is married to his wife, Sarah.

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