There is no one-size-fits-all strategy for Indigenous employee retention. Each organization must understand that processes and policies need to be adjusted over time to determine which strategies are the most effective. Organizations successfully recruiting and retaining Indigenous employees often partner with other organizations, such as skills development and training organizations. They also focus on providing roles that address the interests of Indigenous people and provide positive workplaces that value Indigenous culture.
Now is an ideal time to adjust workplace policies and practices to be both inclusive and supportive of Indigenous people, their cultural heritage, and the unique talents and skills that they bring to the workplace. The movement to advance reconciliation in Canada has created an opportunity for public and private sector employers to improve their relationships with Indigenous people, by recognizing their rights and needs, and by helping non-Indigenous Canadians appreciate the contributions of Canada’s First Peoples.
1. Implement effective and meaningful inclusion practices.
Creating a work environment and implementing workplace practices that ensure Indigenous employees feel valued, understood, accepted, and included can go a long way to enticing people to stay in an organization. Moreover, employers can make the workplace a more welcoming environment for Indigenous employees by ensuring that they see themselves in their work. For example, employers can use Indigenous specific training materials and ensure that instructors have experience working with Indigenous employees. The importance of, and various options for, inclusion policies and practices are highlighted through the programs of a number of organizations, such as AMIK and Indigenous Works. Employers can take inclusion a step further by ensuring that all levels of leadership, from mid-level managers through to senior leadership and the board of directors, include Indigenous employees. Doing so will help Indigenous employees feel more comfortable by valuing them as people as well as employees.
2. Mandate cultural awareness training.
Negative stereotypes and racism continue to persist and can present a significant challenge for Indigenous people at the workplace. For this reason, some Indigenous applicants may try to hide their cultural heritage and personal characteristics on their resumé or during a job interview process. Virtually all workplaces can benefit from mandated cultural awareness training. Training should be linked to inclusion practices and policies, in addition to helping non-Indigenous employees appreciate the discrimination and related challenges faced by Indigenous people over the course of Canadian history. It should also help to provide all employees with relevant cross cultural conflict resolution training. Employees’ cultural awareness can also be enhanced through direct experiences with Indigenous culture, beyond formal training sessions.
3. Accommodate traditional practices and community/family obligations.
Many employers have found success by offering flexible work arrangements (e.g., late/early start/finish; four-day weeks; 10 days on/five days off). Such arrangements may be preferable for Indigenous employees, who may find it difficult to be away from home for extended periods of time. It may also be of value to develop adaptable work arrangements, so that employees can leave on short notice should an important family or community obligation arise. In some cases, Indigenous employees may prefer to work seasonally, if it enables them to participate in traditional activities, such as hunting, fishing, and harvesting, that support their community’s local mixed economy.
Employers should make themselves aware of when these activities take place annually and put a plan in place to enable Indigenous employees to participate. It is recommended that employers survey their Indigenous workers to understand the work arrangement that they would prefer and make changes wherever possible to accommodate their preferences and traditional activities. Such flexibility also helps to build community trust and employee loyalty.
4. Clarify career paths and provide professional development opportunities.
Employees often leave organizations that do not clarify how they can progress in their careers. Organizations can increase retention rates by offering career guidance to help employees plan their
careers and understand pathways to advancement. This can also build trust and loyalty in Indigenous employees. In some cases, Indigenous employees may not have the technical skills necessary for advancing to higher positions in their careers. However, with on-the-job training and support for professional development via a range of options and measures, employers can facilitate the career progression of employees and their ability to take on highly technical roles. It is recommended that employers invest in professional development and job-related skills training for Indigenous employees. In some cases, companies can access government funding for training programs.
5. Offer mentorship, coaching, and/or cohort programs.
Mentorship programs have been proven to be successful tools to integrate Indigenous people into the workplace. Mentors can assist by offering career management advice and can also help people to navigate the workplace and build life skills. Cohort programs are also effective, since they provide Indigenous people with a support system of peers when they begin their new roles. These programs can all be enhanced through the inclusion of Elders, culturally sensitive support programs, and/or support for cultural and traditional activities.