Workplace Refugee Policies and Procedures: A Strategic Move or a Socially Conscious Decision?

Published by: Sinéad Mangan-Mc Hale

Published on: 22 Jun, 2022

Sinéad Mangan-Mc Hale Linked-In profile

In Refugee Week, TGIUK acknowledges the many challenges that refugees face and recognise the lost potential when they are unable to work. In our TGIUK Think Piece, we examine the case for astute and inclusive organisations to employ refugees.

People-related policies and procedures are an essential part of any organisation. They provide a road map for day-to-day operations for employees’ safe and fair treatment, develop a more efficient and effective workforce, and ultimately a healthier bottom line. There are legally required policies such as Disciplinary and Dismissal, Grievances, and Health and Safety. As society and the workplace has developed, there are now more progressive policies on equal pay, discrimination, data protection, whistleblowing, and maternity and paternity rights. In more recent years, companies have been recognising the benefits of having a diverse and inclusive workplace and these are reflected in a range of discrimination policies. The COVID-19 pandemic triggered a new set of more enlightened workplace practices and policies emphasising mental health. So, is it now time for progressive UK companies to develop Workplace Refugee policies to enable the recruitment and retention of refugees?

As companies have discovered, there is a financial gain in having a diverse workforce. So they have taken the strategic decision to actively recruit employees of different race, gender, disability, religion, and background. But there is a skills base in the UK that has not yet been fully exploited – refugees – more than willing, skilled and able to work. Theoretically, there may well be an assumption amongst the public based on horrific images of desperate people with life jackets jammed onto tiny lifeboats that refugees are unskilled or even uneducated. But don’t be fooled by the optics; amongst them are many educated, skilled, technical, professional people who can add value to any organisation.

Aside from being the socially correct thing to recruit refugees, there are sound commercial reasons why it makes sense. Firstly, over recent years, there has been an increase in “conscious consumerism”. That is, buying practices driven by a commitment to making purchasing decisions that have a positive social, economic, and environmental impact. A 2021 Forbes article talks about how consumers are more aware and more interested in the sustainability of not just the end-product but the production and sourcing of that product. Environmental issues are at the core of today’s “aware” consumers. A report by NielsenIQ states, “the majority (73%) of global consumers say they would definitely or probably change their consumption behaviour to reduce their impact on the environment.”  With this in mind,  the report advises forward-thinking companies to plan for the future consumer. A consumer who is more interested in an entirely ethical value chain and in interacting with more environmentally and socially aware brands.

Another sound commercial reason – is the power of Millennials (1981-1995) and Gen Z (1996-2012). Their decision-making power and influence cannot be underestimated. Not only are they the growing force behind conscious consumerism, but as potential recruits and employees, they have a set of values that employers must consider. A 2017 report by the BBC suggests that Gen Z is more concerned about prejudice towards LGBTQ+ people, gender equality and racism than previous generations. And a 2022 report from BUPA highlights the need for companies to show real commitment to environmental and social issues, with “Six in 10 Gen Zs (59%) and over half of people overall (52%) said they would stay longer with a company that had ESG (Environment, Social and Governance) commitments, as well as recommend it to others as a good place to work.”

With the latest ONS Labour Market figures released in May 2022, it is clear that employers are facing a labour shortage as this is the first time that there are more job vacancies than unemployed people. And in a post-Brexit nation, restrictions on recruiting overseas workers, both skilled and unskilled, is a more challenging and time-consuming process. So, not only does it mean that employers must think creatively and look outside the traditional labour market demographics, but they must also have a strong sense of social and environmental awareness and be taking action to execute these values. On the plus side, the same BUPA report states, “Employers with strong environmental and social commitments can also expect a boost to productivity – around half of the people of all ages said they would be more engaged with their organisation overall (51%), more satisfied in their jobs (53%) and more productive (47%).”

In addition to a talent shortage, The HR Director reports on staff retention and attrition as a serious challenge in 2022. Companies have to take into account the cost of recruitment. According to the British Business Bank, the overall year-one hiring cost of a new employee with an average salary of approximately £30,000 is around £62,890. It is hard to calculate the cost of attrition considering the loss of experience and company knowledge, not to mention the time and training invested in the departing employee. In contrast, refugees tend to have a comparatively higher retention rate. This is based on a natural desire for periods of stability and a commitment to establish or re-establish their careers.

Refugee employees are the same as any other employee and are entitled to the same employment terms and conditions, including equal pay, protection under discrimination policies, etc. However, for forward-thinking organisations with a strategic mission of being socially aware and profitable, additional procedures could be put in place. These procedures could focus more on providing practical and soft skills support. Consider aligning with the Occupational Health department, implementing a “work-buddy” system, providing additional English Language training (particularly around company-specific jargon and language), and delivering unconscious bias training to all employees.

A word of caution. Whether a company develops a Refugee Workplace policy for commercial or social reasons, or hopefully a combination of both, it must ensure that the recruitment policy is specific, comprehensive and current on the required documentation (e.g. Biometric Residence Permit (BRP) and a National Insurance Number) and that the pre-employment checks confirm all applicants have the right to work as well as conforming to the standard procedures for pre-boarding

And so, to answer the question – Workplace Refugee Policies and Procedures: A Strategic Move or a Socially Conscious Decision? The facts seem to speak for themselves; a skilled and unskilled talent shortage, a competitive global talent market, an increase in conscious consumerism, a more socially aware and selective generation of employees versus a growing number of refugees with diverse skills, professions, and education, keen to work and support themselves in the UK without relying on social benefit. Who will be brave enough to take the first step?

Credits: Refugee vector created by freepik –


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