Tips for working more effectively with your South Pacific Islander workforce

In general, the peoples of the South Pacific view life slightly differently than their western counterparts and in order to work more effectively with them, it is worth taking the time to try to understand them better.

Below are some general ways to interact and communicate with them in order to achieve this.

Of course these tips are general in nature. Each person is an individual and may not conform to the norm.

South Pacific Islanders are in the main friendly, warm and hospitable. They place high value on family and religion and prioritise positive social interaction such as singing, dancing, feasting and religious service over concerns for the future.

Most display a relaxed and gentle manner. They are generally amicable, neighbourly and exhibit goodwill and an absence of antagonism. They much prefer a state of inner peace and a desire not to quarrel.

There is a general attitude that what could be done today could also be done tomorrow. This sentiment toward time is not considered by them as laziness but rather an expression of a less worried approach to life. They might best be described as having a laid-back attitude.

Life operates at a different pace in the South Pacific. Being late for events is common. Being late does not necessarily mean that the activity is not important, but rather that punctuality is less important. This trait is commonly referred to as operating on ‘island time’.

It may need to be emphasised to South Pacific Islanders that in order for them to optimise their time in Australia, punctuality and a faster pace may be needed so everyone wins.

There is also an emphasis placed on modesty and humility, as most South pacific Islanders are religious.

Speak slowly, simply and clearly

You may not realise it but nearly everyone has an accent of some sort. If South Pacific Islanders are not accustomed to hearing an Australian accent, they may find it more difficult to understand. Speak more slowly than you normally would and avoid complex words and language.

Avoid swearing and jargon

Most South Pacific Islanders will find swearing offensive and perceive this as anger or aggression so in order to build the relationship, avoid foul language or blasphemous terms. Get your message across with clear and simple language. Australian terms and jargon may also be not readily understood and should be avoided in order for messages and directions to be understood more clearly.

Give clear instructions

It is worth giving important instructions both verbally and in writing. Handouts with pictures or diagrams may help to re-inforce the messages or directions and assist understanding.  You may like to ask your team leaders to translate for the team in their own language.

Check understanding & encourage questions

Don’t assume that just because South Pacific Islanders do not ask questions that they necessarily understand your message or directions. South Pacific Islanders may be willing to please by nodding their head or indicating an understanding when they may not. Nodding and saying ‘yes’ can mean that they have heard and understood the question, not necessarily that they agree with what is being asked. South Pacific Islanders may be less assertive than most Australians – at least at first. Ask questions in a calm manner in order to check in and encourage the asking of questions by the workers. Request workers to repeat what you’ve told them and ask them to give examples of what you’re talking about.

Give practical demonstrations

A great way to increase the chances of directions and instructions being understood is with practical demonstrations and giving workers the opportunity to demonstrate their learning by doing.

Be patient / Avoid losing your temper or raising your voice

Try not to vent frustrations openly and in front of the South Pacific Islander group. They will generally not respond well to shouting or raised voices. If you need to send a message, it will be more effectively given in a calm and rational manner, certainly with respect.

Avoid direct and harsh criticism especially in front of others

It is advisable to not be openly critical and harsh toward South Pacific Islander peoples. This is particularly the case when addressing an individual in a group setting. It is advisable to address issues in private and in so doing to be sensitive and calm when raising issues. Invite the team leader to assist with performance discussions with other workers.

Dress modestly

In order not to offend South Pacific Islanders, it is a good idea to be mindful of how one dresses while working with them. Both males and females should be asked to dress appropriately and to cover up if necessary.

Avoid working on Sundays

Most South Pacific Islanders are religious and observe Sunday as a day of prayer, worship and a day to spend with family and friends. If possible, allow workers to spend all of Sunday or at least some portion being involved in these activities which may be very important to them. Some South Pacific Islanders who are Seventh Day Adventists may observe Sabbath from sunset on Friday to sunrise on Sunday. Ask your workers their preference and explain the needs of your workplace and the work hours. Most workers will make reasonable adjustments, for example, during peak season.

Never criticise home countries

South Pacific Islanders will be very proud of their home country irrespective of what events are occurring back home. Even if there is political turmoil or unrest, be careful not to criticise their native country or be disparaging toward it or fellow citizens.

The key to working more effectively with South Pacific Islander people is to build respect and to develop a working relationship with them.

Remember that when South Pacific Islanders first come to Australia to work they undergo a huge cultural change from a relaxed village life to one where everything is different – people, houses, shops, road rules and a very structured and demanding work environment.

Anyone facing such big changes to their life will take time to adjust and if you are patient with south pacific Islanders and help them make the transition to Australian work ethic and culture, you are almost certain to be rewarded with hard working, reliable, committed workers who return each year.

As their confidence grows so will their productivity.

MADEC NHLIS staff with contributions from: Dean Wickham, EO, Sunraysia Mallee Ethnic Communities Council (SMECC) and Goopy Parke Weaving, Labour Mobility Co-ordinator, Pasifiki HR