Immigrant employee: when assistance to a newcomer turns into a business success

Written by a journalist Laima Karaliūtė

Employers who employ immigrants in Lithuania see only advantages in their choice. By giving jobs to the newcomers, not only do they participate in the social mission but also see how it benefits their business first hand. Today we are talking with the owner of the barbershop chain called “Barzdaskučiai” Vilius Lėveris, as well as with the head of the human resources of the international money transfering company “Western Union Lietuva” Rūta Blažaitytė. 

“Barzdaskučiai” A photo from a personal archive

Barbershop’s charm – immigrant barbers

“Barzdaskučiai” barbershops are special in a way that all the workers there are only immigrants. Folks came from Syria, Turkey, Libya, Azerbaijan, Eritrea, Colombia, and Mexico. V. Lėveris, who opened up a barbershop with beard modelling services eight years ago, said that back then he could not find any local barbers who specialized in the art of beard shaving. Just by accident he ran into a refugee from Syria who practiced this tradecraft in his home country. After hiring a person from such an exotic land, Vilius received a lot of positive reviews from clients. Majority of them were charmed by the Syrian barber’s skills and the Syrian himself was a hard worker. Ever since, the owner of the barbershop employs only immigrants. 

What are the advantages of the barbershop that employs only immigrants?

Every time you visit a barber, you can also visit a foreign land even if only for a short while. Our barbers are talkative and friendly. Our clients not only receive a haircut or a shave but also a chance to talk about different cultures, traditions, etc. And the barbers themselves have an opportunity to learn more about Lithuania.

Have there been any issues from a clash between clients and barbers coming from different religions and cultures? 

Very rarely. On the contrary, here people learn how to be more tolerant. For example, one of our clients who is Jewish, always gets a haircut from a barber who is Muslim. They are almost best buddies. 

What other benefits, besides the earnings do your hired immigrants get?

In a month they serve hundreds of clients. Honestly, I can say, that the majority of our barbers have more friends and acquaintances among Lithuanians than I, having been born and raised here in Vilnius. They integrate flawlessly, create a large social circle. If they need a doctor or a lawyer, a car repair specialist or a real estate agent – no problem. Our clients come from a variety of backgrounds, they create a bond, so if a barber ever needs anything, he calls and gets some advice without any difficulties. Even I ask barbers for a point of contact when I need something (laughs). 

Do your employees have to learn Lithuanian language?

No. English or Russian is enough. Nearly all of the clients know one of these languages. We have barbers who know a little Lithuanian. Most often these are the ones who have found their better halves in Lithuania. From my experience, it is the fastest way to learn Lithuanian. 

Why do you think some of the immigrants complain that they cannot find employment in Lithuania, and social benefits are not enough to get by?

Perhaps they can’t find employment because they don’t want to work? Immigrants in Lithuania do get substantial benefits. In addition, they get a large rent compensation. The majority of our barbers rent apartments in the city center and are well off. 

Do your barbers get paid the same as Lithuanians barbers who work in different barber shops?

For sure. A good barber, regardless of his nationality in Lithuania gets paid an amount that is equal to his ability to keep the client happy. If a lot of people want to get a haircut or a shave from a particular barber – they are willing to pay for it – that’s what the barber’s earnings depend on. 

What are the advantages of the multiculturalism?

Nicer relationships between people, assistance to one another and deep-rooted tolerance. 

What do you think about employers who are against immigrants?

Most likely they are closed minded. They don’t understand the benefits of the multiculturalism to their business or to the city.

International group of people is more creative and successful

Around one hundred and fifty immigrants work in the division of “Western Union Lietuva”. People who came to Lithuania fill positions ranging from client services to department heads. According to the head of HR department Ruta Blažaitytė, the company always welcomes newcomers who are attentive to detail, have a quick reaction, think critically, and are able to analyze the data. There is one requirement for all – a firm grasp of English language. 

Why did your company start the initiative of hiring immigrants?

First of all, we work all over the world, so we need employees who know various languages – such as Arabic, Chinese, or Kurdish. Another thing is – who is going to better understand an Arab better than another Arab? A foreign language will never be on the same level as the native tongue. For example, a person from Syria will truly understand the Syrian client’s needs or the country’s market better than a Lithuanian.  Plus, we don’t differentiate employees based on their nationality, gender or age. 

What are the advantages of a multicultural company?

Such a company prevails in various experiences and views. International teams are more creative, they can overcome their national barriers. By working together people with different views not only become more tolerant but also more insightful. 

How do you avoid conflicts that arise because of different religions, cultures and nationalities in your company?

We emphasize education on safe and friendly work environment. We organize seminars where we teach tolerance towards people from different cultures. We even have rooms for prayers if an employee has a need to pray during the day. 

Besides employment, what else do you do to help with immigrant integration?

We have a separate internet page for the newcomers where they can find useful information on Lithuanian immigrants, related legislature, services, events, rent options, etc. For several years now we have a volunteer-based program “Help a newcomer”. Local employees assist the new immigrant employees and help them understand more about life in Lithuania. We also provide Lithuanian language courses. 

What are the loses of those employers who are skeptical towards employing immigrants?They don’t understand that a homogenous company loses its competitive edge in the market.