With the growth of globalization, more and more organizations now have employees from other countries. These immigrant professionals (IPs) face unique challenges in that they not only need to reorient to a new societal culture, but also a new organizational culture. Interestingly, not many studies have been conducted on how these IPs perceive the relationships they have with their organizations and the challenges they face.
As a part of a larger research project on immigrants’ acculturation and mental health, I studied the perceptions of Indian IPs on the organization-employee relationships with their employers in the United States. Among various factors influencing the immigration experiences, social support refers to both practical and emotional support from various sources in the social network (Lee, Koeske, & Sales, 2004). While social support is critical for immigrants in general, it is more complex for this particular group of IPs. In addition to support from their personal networks, or members of the local community where they receive help, encouragement, and supportive resources, which help counter discrimination (Akhtar & Choi, 2003), the relationships these IPs have with their major socializing organizations are also critical. The importance of employment to mental health for immigrants was well documented. Castro, Rue, and Takeuchi (2010) argued that employment has distinctive significance because it is a prominent signal of success in one’s immigration experiences. Employment frustration, reflected in both denial of entry and denial of advancement at work, negatively affects an immigrant’s mental health (Castro et al., p. 496).
Applying relationship management strategies and outcomes to this particular context, this study employed qualitative interviews with 23 Indian IPs working in a major southern city in the United States.
This section reports partial results from the study. The majority of participants acknowledged that they did enjoy working for their employers and felt the relationship with that organization has been satisfactory. However, they felt certain gaps in how their employers maintain relationships with them.
Many participants expressed the same idea of employers only following the standard practices without going above and beyond to cater to immigrant employees. In addition, even though almost all participants felt they were respected and their voices made a difference, this was often limited to the technical areas in which they were knowledgeable and had expertise. With regards to other administrative or managerial issues, they did not feel much involvement in making decisions such as changes in operations.
Therefore, communicatively many participants felt the need to speak out more. For example, one said:
Like right now we are going through certain kind of changes. If I keep quiet and carry on for me that won’t be good. So I have to more expressive, I have to talk whether the other person feels good or not, that still has to be communicated.
One participant also expressed the desire for the employer to engage in some training on the “soft skills” to ease their anxiety, “…client expects answer right away, I was not even told that it’s OK to not know the answer…that kind of, you know, soft skills, training on those skills should have been given.” The need to express more shows that IPs do not want to be treated as mere skilled workers but equal decision makers. Actively taking up challenges appears to be the preferred strategy.
Immigrants’ workplace organizations could develop targeted training programs and social activities to help immigrants’ integrative experience. For example, these organizations can use more individual- or small group centered social events rather than purely focusing on task-oriented interactions.
Lan Ni, Ph.D. is an Associate Professor in the Jack J. Valenti School of Communication at the University of Houston. Follow her on Twitter @lannini.