Need Employees for Unusual Hours? Seek Foreign-Born Workers

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By Genevieve Douglas

There are jobs in nearly every industry that require employees to work odd hours, and immigrants are increasingly more likely to fill these openings, research finds.

Documented immigrants are willing to take these shifts and are an untapped pool to recruit for jobs that employers are likely having trouble filling in today’s competitive labor market, Angie Marek, director of research for the Partnership for a New American Economy, told Bloomberg BNA July 13. Specifically, the organization found that foreign-born workers are 25.2 percent more likely to work weekends than U.S.-born workers and 15.6 percent more likely to work unusual hours in general.

This could be good news for a variety of important economic sectors, Marek said. For example, immigrants working in a variety of health-care positions are considerably more likely to work unusual hours than their U.S.-born peers. Immigrant physicians are 20.6 percent more likely to work unusual hours than their peers, while the comparable figure for immigrant health-care support workers, such as nursing assistants, is 16.8 percent, the research found. Immigrants in education, library services, and related fields are 23.4 percent more likely to take on odd-hours work than their peers, and this pattern held true for the education, manufacturing, farming, and technology sectors as well, according to the research.

Today, most industries are focused on optimizing productivity in a 24/7 society, Greg Morton, chief executive officer of the Northern California Human Resources Association, told Bloomberg BNA July 14. But the challenge for HR departments and employers that want to fill these roles is that “there are only so many people that want to work at 3 a.m. in a slaughterhouse,” he said.

“That really puts a lot of pressure on an HR department” because recruiting labor for unusual work shifts can be “quite counter” to HR’s strategies for more traditional-hour employees, Morton said. For example, these potential employees “likely won’t be on LinkedIn,” he said. HR departments are having to devise new recruitment techniques to find these workers, and that can result in “all kinds of barriers whether they be culture or language,” Morton added.

The research is based on an analysis of the American Community Survey and the American Time Use Survey. The Partnership for a New American Economy is co-chaired by Michael Bloomberg, the founder and majority owner of Bloomberg BNA parent company Bloomberg LP.

Recruitment, Retention, Engagement

First and foremost, advertising for open positions with immigrant communities may require HR to go back to the recruitment drawing board, according to Marek. Many of these jobs are filled through more informal avenues, and employers would do best to explore options such as flyers in local churches and multilingual local radio ads, she said.

The real challenges for the long term are retaining these employees—whether they are immigrants or U.S. born, Morton said. Many of these workers accept an overnight shift as a way to get their foot in the door for a job higher up the ladder, he said. Employers should also be concerned about burnout for these employees, he added. “It’s hard enough to keep the engagement level high of employees working 8 to 5 with good pay and great benefits, and that is even harder for a labor force doing the worst work in the worst hours with the goal of one day being more successful,” Morton said.

Employers can improve engagement, however, through initiatives like English-as-a-second-language training or rewards and recognition programs, he said.

On the recruitment front, Morton noted that technology can be an effective tool. For example, there are some technologies emerging that help take “a marketing approach to raising awareness and visibility of these potential job candidates,” he said.

Leveraging smartphones and tablet computers and Facebook can enable targeted recruitment of job candidates for odd-hours work and even nurture a relationship with these communities to create opportunity for future employment, he said. “You can’t really think of the traditional model of posting an ad” and whittling down candidates and interviewing them, Morton added.

Compliance Is Still Key

Although the research may give employers a better idea of how to fill positions that require overnight and weekend work, they should take care not to treat this population of employees any differently than the rest of the workforce, Montserrat Miller, an immigration attorney with Arnall Golden Gregory in Washington, told Bloomberg BNA July 17. “If the workforce is by and large a legal, documented workforce, employers should treat them the same” as U.S.-born workers, she said.

There has to be a level of consistency across the board, and if employers want to target this workforce for these late-night and weekend shifts, HR must treat everyone the same in the I-9 process and documentation, Miller said. At the same time, employers should also be sure to properly complete an I-9 form for each worker to protect against accusations of knowingly hiring someone who isn’t documented to work in the U.S. she added.

In the current economic landscape, it is significant for employers to know that this population is willing to work these shifts that are difficult to fill, “but they should treat them as a workforce that is legally authorized to work in the U.S. regardless of where they may come from” to avoid litigation, Miller said.

To contact the reporter on this story: Genevieve Douglas in Washington at gdouglas@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Tony Harris at tharris@bna.com

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