Many newcomers have hopes and dreams of building a better life in Canada but may face challenges when immigrating to a new country and getting settled. Newcomers deal with the stress of adapting to a new environment and navigating complex social and cultural dynamics. This highlights the need for policies and programs that promote social integration and support those struggling to connect with others in their new communities.
Due to low birth rates and an aging population, immigration is often perceived to be one solution to labour force growth. Newcomers do so much for us, they play a critical role in filing labour shortages, creating jobs and driving economic growth—we have an obligation to provide support, and to do that we need a seamless settlement system.
Many newcomers report feeling ‘urban loneliness,’ a deep sense of isolation and alienation from others despite living in a highly populated urban setting. When people are connected to family, friends, and their community, they are happier and healthier than those who are not. A recent Harvard Study concluded that strong relationships = a long and happy life.
What role do employers play in the discussion and actions around newcomer mental health and wellbeing? How can employers support newcomers and help them feel more connected to their jobs and their communities? This was the topic of conversation for the panel of experts at a recent webinar Newcomer Mental Health and Wellbeing, hosted by Youth Newcomer Jobs Portal (YNJP) and Magnet. The panel included:
Manvir Bhangu began by emphasizing the impact that workplaces have on employees. Bhangu states that it is important to remember that work is where we spend most of our time. She added that many employers fail to see their employees holistically; although we only see them at work, it is important to remember they have lives outside of work that could impact them during their workday. Bhangu says that sometimes employees are afraid to voice things to their employers for fear of negative consequences, so it is important for employers to check in with their staff and see how they are doing, or if there is anything they can do to offer support. Small gestures can still make a big difference for someone who is struggling.
Amal Masri added that for many immigrants, their identity is based on professional performance. They came to Canada for more professional opportunities and for many immigrants their work is part of their self-identity. They may have already faced rejection in the workplace previously, or when applying for jobs and that can affect their mental health. As well, many newcomers struggle to integrate culturally into a new workplace. They may not be able to participate in small talk if they don’t understand references to music or television shows. They may not be able to participate in social work events if they have children they need to take care of, or may be unable to attend if they don’t drink. This prevents them from building high-quality relationships in the workplace that can help them advance in their careers. Masri urged employers to think about all perspectives and circumstances in the workplace and be intentional and inclusive when planning social events.
Masri also emphasized that many newcomers to Canada deal with the cognitive load of constantly having to live a life of translation and that we need to do more to bridge the cultural intelligence gap. As much as we tell newcomers it is important for them to learn about Canada, Masri argues that it is equally important for employers to learn about global culture so that they can help newcomers feel more included and comfortable in the workplace.
Baldev Mutta added that there is a heavy focus on newcomers to adjust to Canada but there is no responsibility placed on employers to make the work environment more culturally competent, sensitive, understanding, and caring. He adds that there needs to be an emphasis on HR departments to ensure they are conducting interviews without any bias.
Mutta concluded that employers need to create work environments that are conducive to actualizing the full potential of the workforce they are hiring, recognize the skills and strengths of newcomers in the work environment, and lean into that to help set them up for success.
According to a survey by IRCC, 70 per cent of newcomers are unaware of the free settlement services available to them. Here are some that the panel shared:
There are also lots of resources, job interview support, and skills training information available in the YNJP Portal, all free of charge. Through Youth Boost, you can also find resources to help you build your resume and cover letter, write networking emails, and prepare for the working world.