Pasifika in the workplace: How to support Pacific peoples

Published 22 February 2024

In today's diverse workplace in Aotearoa, the growing Pasifika communities bring a wealth of culture and perspectives. It's imperative for Kiwi managers, owners, and HR to understand and effectively support Pasifika employees.

Understanding the nuanced needs and dynamics of different Pacific cultures is a complex task. With over 700 years of history in New Zealand, NZ has been the home to Cook Islanders, Fijians, Niueans, Samoans, Tahitians, Tokelauans, Tongans, Tuvaluans, and many more Pacific Island communities.

The Pacific islands occupy a vast oceanic region that covers almost 20% of the Earth’s surface, and is home to the world’s largest concentration of microstates - so it is no surprise that tradition, obligations and power structures are different for every group.

Pasifika communities encompass a myriad of traditions, languages, and cultural intricacies. It's not just about acknowledging their presence but truly comprehending the depths of their experiences and aspirations.

Consider the concept of "vā," a Pacific notion that underscores the space between individuals, filled with love, respect, and reciprocity. It's within this vā that genuine connections and understanding flourish. Pasifika employees often seek workplaces that recognise their holistic selves, valuing their contributions beyond mere productivity.

Unfortunately, many workplaces fall short in providing the necessary support and cultural sensitivity Pasifika employees require. From mispronounced names to overlooking family obligations, the gap between intention and action widens, leading to disengagement and missed opportunities for growth.

Here's 5 ways to support your Pasifika employees:

Cultural understanding

Implement sessions to educate staff about Pasifika cultures, customs, and values. This can help foster greater understanding and appreciation among team members. Our team have had the privilege of talking with Aaron Mauger about the influence of his ancestors, deep roots in Samoan, Cook Islands and Rurutu heritage, and cultural values shaping his leadership philosophy (we highly recommend him). 

Mentorship programs for Pasifika employees

Establish mentorship programs that pair new Pasifika employees with experienced mentors from similar cultural backgrounds. This provides invaluable support and guidance, facilitating smoother integration into the workplace. 

Family-centric work policies

Recognise the importance of family and community in Pasifika culture by offering policies that prioritise family needs. Pasifika parents often make decisions about their children’s careers, so it’s worth making and taking opportunities to engage with families. This includes accommodating family obligations and providing time off for cultural events and ceremonies.

Encourage a safe and respectful space 

Teu le vā, ‘nurture the relationship’ is a well-known expression in Polynesian culture. Pasifika people are proud. Many don’t ask questions because they don’t want to be seen to be failing. Create a workplace culture where Pasifika employees feel comfortable expressing themselves and raising concerns without fear of judgment or reprisal. Encourage open communication and active listening among team members. Get to know your Pasifika employees personally, their lives outside of work, and listen when they open up with questions.

Recognition and reward

Priorities for Pasifika are a job that makes them feel worthwhile so acknowledge the contributions of Pasifika employees through meaningful recognition. This includes celebrating cultural milestones and achievements, supporting a good work-life balance as well as providing opportunities for professional development and advancement.

The legacies of ancestors, grandparents and parents are extremely important in how Pacific peoples approach life and decision-making so embrace what your employees with Pacific backgrounds bring as a whole. The celebration of cultural identity and personal development is an amazing quality of Pacific peoples, where they often ask themselves who they are and who they want to be - the continuation of a legacy.

What’s the opportunity?

For employers and HR, a re-evaluation of your recruitment and retention strategies ensures you attract diverse talent and cultivate a vibrant culture. By doing so, your business can access a broader range of skills and perspectives, ultimately leading to innovation and success.

Meeting the needs and trends of the evolving workforce is becoming more complex, but this reiterates the responsibility of managers and HR to proactively adapt their practices and policies. This may involve implementing unique work arrangements, promoting diversity and inclusion initiatives, and offering training and development programs that cater to the needs of different cultural backgrounds to ensure progression rather than stability.

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