Who has more job satisfaction, immigrants or Canadian-born employees?

James Chowhan | Hamilton | January 23, 2015

immigrant-workersCanada’s population is aging and fewer young workers are available to replace retiring workers. Many look to immigration as the main driver for labour force growth. Immigrant workers are already a large minority of the labour force in Canada — they account for one in five employees — and this percentage is expected to increase.

Immigrant workers account for one in eight in the United States, one in ten in the United Kingdom, and one in ten in Ireland. The magnitude of these ratios highlights the relative importance of immigrant workers within the Canadian workforce. Because immigrants are the main driver of labour force growth in Canada, we ask the following question:

Are immigrants satisfied with their jobs?

Whether hiring immigrants or Canadian-born employees, there are recruitment, orientation and training costs involved, and when a valuable employee leaves, future anticipated benefits are lost. In this study, immigrant employees’ job satisfaction is compared to their Canadian-born counterparts, and further the effect of high performance work systems (HPWS) are explored to understand the role HPWSs may play in immigrants’ job satisfaction compared to Canadian-born employees.

To better understand the relationship between HPWS practices and employee job satisfaction and the differences between immigrant employees’ compared to Canadian-born employees, DeGroote School of Business adjunct assistant professor James Chowhan joined by fellow McMaster University professor Isik Zeytinoglu and Memorial University of Newfoundland professor Gordon Cooke conducted original research, at the Statistics Canada Research Data Centre at McMaster University, using Statistics Canada’s Workplace and Employee Survey to explore these relationships.


To answer the questions identified above, Statistics Canada’s 1999-2004 Workplace and Employee Survey (WES) data are used for the analyses. WES is a nationally representative sample of workplaces and their employees. The employee survey had an average response rate of 86%, over the 1999 to 2004 period. The sample size of the panel used in the analyses is 49,344 (comprising 41,764 non-immigrants and 7,580 immigrants), which is representative of an average working population of 10,150,000 employees over the reference periods (i.e. Canadian-born 8,323,000; total immigrant 1,827,000). The majority of the employees were: non-immigrant (82%), had full-time regular employment (76.4%), did not belong to a union (74%), married (69.5%), female (51.8%), and had a college or university degree (42.7%).

The study used descriptive statistics, correlation analyses, and Ordered Logistic Regression (OLR) analyses to understand the relationship between HPWS practices and job satisfaction. Organizations use a variety of human resource management practices selected and implemented to function as a system with the goal of improving organizational performance; these practices are often called high performance work systems (HPWS), and the main elements of these systems are practices that enhance employee empowerment, motivation, and skill-development.

What did the study find?

(1) Immigrants tend to have lower job satisfaction.

The average job satisfaction score is 3.21 (based on the responses to the job satisfaction question: ‘considering all aspects of this job, how satisfied are you with the job?’ and responses coded as 4= very satisfied, 3=satisfied, 2=dissatisfied, and 1= very dissatisfied). Canadian-born have an average job satisfaction score of 3.23, which is 3% higher than the average score for immigrants (3.13).   Further, immigrants entering Canada in 1966 or earlier have a higher average job satisfaction score (3.29) than Canadian-born and immigrant cohorts arriving later (1967-1989 and 1990-2004, 3.13 and 3.01 average scores, respectively. These gaps are statistically significant and substantive when compared to previously reported scores in the literature.

(2) More recent immigrants have the lowest job satisfaction.

Immigrants are less likely to have the same odds for job satisfaction as Canadian-born employees by a factor of 0.73, all else being equal–in other words, immigrants have a job satisfaction odds ratio that is 27% lower than Canadian-born employees. In particular, immigrants entering prior to 1966 are not significantly different from Canadian-born; whereas, cohorts 1967-1989 and 1990-2004 have increasingly lower job satisfaction levels, on average. The negative relationship ranges from approximately a factor of 0.70 lower odds for 1967-1989 cohort to 0.62 for 1990-2004 cohort.

(3) Some high performance work practices have a positive impact on job satisfaction.

With regard to HPWS practices, participating in a task team that is concerned with workplace issues is positively associated with job satisfaction, job promotion and pay-for-performance are positively associated with job satisfaction, and on-the-job training is substantially and significantly positively associated with job satisfaction for all employees. Further, empowerment-, motivation-, and skill-enhancing bundles of practices are also positively associated with job satisfaction. Finally, the aggregate HPWS is positively associated with job satisfaction for all employees, Canadian-born and immigrants.

(4) Motivation-enhancing practices have a greater impact on immigrant job satisfaction compared to Canadian-born employees.

With regard to the moderation effect of HPWS practices on the immigrant status and job satisfaction relationship no individual practices has a positive significant effect. For the sub-bundles, empowerment- and skill-enhancing bundles of practices are not significant; however, immigrants are significantly more likely to have higher job satisfaction than Canadian-born when they participate in a bundle of motivation-enhancing HPWS practices. Finally, immigrant employees are more likely to have higher job satisfaction than Canadian-born when they participate in a comprehensive bundle of HPWS practices at their workplace.

What do these results imply?

A lower level of job satisfaction for immigrants is consistent with challenges immigrants face in the labour market. These challenges include difficulty re-establishing their careers after migration, inadequate or inappropriate jobs given their education and experience (i.e. underemployment and over-qualification), and earnings are generally lower than Canadian-born workers. Recent research suggests that language and literacy difficulties are a substantial contributor to between immigrant cohort differences (and Canadian-born differences) in earnings, and this may be more important for recent immigrants as Canadian education and experience helps improve language skills over time and contributes to earnings convergence and improved promotion opportunities.

Finally, the positive effect of the motivation-enhancing bundle and immigrant status interaction on job satisfaction indicates the importance of feeling valued (e.g. when the following are received formal performance appraisal, the appraisal affecting rewards, promotions, having a non-wage benefits package, and pay-for-performance practices). Wages and other rewards are not only important in terms of economic equality between Canadian-born and immigrants, all else equal, but for immigrants, their previous standard of living and parity with comparators in their home country may also be relevant–a part of the immigrant experience is the struggle to maintain a comparable standard of living and preserve purchasing power parity.

In the increasingly globalized workplace, where immigrants are viewed as the main source to address labour shortages, workplace diversity creates opportunities that can be used as a lever for improved business performance; however, the diversity brought by immigrants to the workplace can challenge managers to create satisfactory jobs for their workforce within their workplace’s sub-culture. We suggest managers consider examining how their human resource practices can work together to positively affect immigrants’ job satisfaction and how their organizations can capitalize on this to improve immigrant employees’ job satisfaction, ultimately contributing to organizational success.

James Chowhan‘s research focuses on the relationship between human resource management practices, such as human capital development and training, and organizational outcomes including innovation and performance. More broadly, he is interested in understanding how workplace practices and employment arrangements contribute to employee outcomes both at an individual and family level.

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