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Immigrant-owned Small Businesses and their Handling of Human Resources (by Jocelyn Chung)

Growing up in a household of first-generation immigrants, my parents had seldomly followed American societal norms. They run a small shop in the heart of Little Saigon in Westminster, CA, selling phone cards, lottery tickets, and water, with a laundromat running in the back. Given that they are a business of 10 employees, my father had never felt the need to hire a Human Resource (HR) Specialist to produce a standardized process of maintaining employee-employer relations. When issues come up, he, as the owner, would need to handle them – from staffing schedules, recruitment processes, as well as disciplinary action. While large corporations have created a system to tackle such issues, most small businesses do not have access to the same resources to resolve similar problems. What issues may arise for mom-and-pop shops without an HR department?

Corporations with many employees require structures and processes to maximize their efficiency with conflict resolution and risk management. These HR professionals will have the education and experience to understand how to best handle the recruitment and discipline of employees. 

As of 2018, 18.5% of US immigrants have obtained a bachelor’s degree. According to the National Immigration Forum, there was “an estimated 2.1 million immigrant entrepreneurs in 2015 with less than a bachelor’s degree”. Without consultation with an HR professional, these immigrant entrepreneurs will not have access to pertinent information that could vastly improve their optimization of employees. Despite the lack of resources, many mom-and-pop shops find ways, creative or simple, to rectify any problems that may surface. Reaching out to an HR professional may not even cross their mind, given that their traditional upbringing may place an emphasis on individualistic problem-solving. These business owners will don various hats, engaging in the duties of an HR manager.

An issue had surfaced in my father’s shop, where an employee was complaining about the method used to schedule everybody’s weekly shifts. The store manager would produce a schedule of availabilities on a piece of paper and hang it up for the employees to claim their shifts on a first-come-first-serve basis. My father’s approach to this conflict was to simply delegate the task of assigning shifts to the employee who had filed the complaint. While this may have been the easiest solution for him, a consultation with an HR professional may have resulted in a different outcome.

To address this issue, a potential resolution that may be proposed could be the use of technology --- utilizing a website such as SubitUp, BuddyPunch, or When I Work to schedule everyone’s shifts. The problem that resides in this solution lies in the employees; most employees are also older immigrants who are not well-versed in technology or the English language.

While conflict resolution is a task that is handled by the business owner, some of the other hats they may don include benefit/performance appraisals, hiring and onboarding processes, and developing a workplace culture. While this may seem to list a vast number of responsibilities for one person, according to an SHRM article by Mark Feffer, “How Small Business Owners Successfully Delegate HR,” it is financially wiser for organizations with fewer than 20 employees to have the HR responsibilities handled by someone already inside the company. There is a concern about maintaining accurate payroll information. It is a lot of information to keep track of the hours worked, the days, and the employees. For an immigrant without much technological experience, my father would have to write down all this information for each day, each week. Because he also must focus on the operations, the finances, and other external factors for the business, keeping track of the hours has become a menial task. Instead, he utilizes an honor system and asks his employees to give him the number of hours they worked. He was able to do this by developing a good relationship with his employees and supporting their personal growth.

After observing my father’s business operations during my lifetime, I had come to realize that he is his store’s own HR manager. Compared to large corporations and their HR departments, there is a difference in priorities and problems one may stumble across. 

For mom-and-pop shops run by older immigrants, what advice would you provide to better optimize their “HR” procedures? How could we encourage business owners to seek professional consultations to improve their approaches to hiring, payroll, or conflict resolution?

About the Author:

Jocelyn Chung is currently a fourth-year student at the Collins College of Hospitality Management at Cal Poly Pomona. With an emphasis on Event Management, she is aspiring to become an event planner and own her own venue someday. She also works in Cal Poly Pomona’s Associated Students, Inc. as the Student Activities Supervisor for the Bronco Events and Activities Team (BEAT), planning engaging events for the student body.

Citation:

Budiman, A., Tamir, C., Mora, L., & Noe-Bustamante, L. (2020, October 1). Facts on U.S. immigrants, 2018. Pew Research Center's Hispanic Trends Project. Retrieved April 16, 2022, from https://www.pewresearch.org/hispanic/2020/08/20/facts-on-u-s-immigrants/

Feffer, M. (2019, August 16). How small-business owners successfully delegate HR. SHRM. Retrieved April 16, 2022, from https://www.shrm.org/resourcesandtools/hr-topics/employee-relations/pages/how-small-business-owners-successfully-delegate-hr-.aspx

Immigrants as economic contributors: Immigrant entrepreneurs. National Immigration Forum. (2018, November 5). Retrieved April 16, 2022, from https://immigrationforum.org/article/immigrants-as-economic-contributors-immigrant-entrepreneurs/ 

Picture Source: https://degette.house.gov/services/resources-for-small-businesses

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