Distance, Social Life are Concerns of Expats in Extensive Study

Part 1
Anyone thinking of embarking on a career as an expat in their early 40s has concerns, a study found. For one thing, they may feel homesick and realize that it’s going to be hard to make meaningful friendships at their age and even harder if he’s still seeking a marriage partner. It turns out, though, that foreign assignees are mostly married at 62 percent. The concern turns to the spouse — if she has a career of her own that she doesn’t want to sacrifice.

Overcoming these concerns is key to having employees commit to an assignment thousands of miles away. Global mobility managers would seriously need to look at the Expat Insider 2019 Business Edition as the study — the largest one yet with 20,259 participants — explores these pre-relocation concerns from a global perspective. 

Overall, the lifestyle change is not really a big issue. About 59 percent of them receive a lump-sum payment. Also, the main motivations are there — general career development, more senior position, and better compensation and benefits. About 79 percent, in general, have no life-altering concern. They are happy with their life in a new country. 

Even with certain lifestyle adjustments, it turns out many of them, 60 percent to be exact, feel at home abroad. The distressing part are the 23 percent who don’t feel at home abroad yet and the remaining 17 percent who don’t think they will ever feel at home abroad. 

If there are three things that expats are unsatisfied with or have some concerns, here are some that employers and global mobility managers will need to address:

1. Hard to gain new friends

Social integration is easier in some countries, but not in the United States. Many Americans are very polite but also private. It’s not unusual why this is the case. Many are also busy on weekends doing their household chores. There’s simply a lack of leisure time. One way to address the topic is to offer the candidates access to professional and social networking opportunities in the host country and to actively encourage the use of these networks.

2. Unhappiness

Unhappiness is a key concern of employees before they go on a global relocation. Since it is also known to be a major reason for assignment failure, many employers have spouse support programs in place to improve the well-being of the spouse abroad. Yet it is quite another thing, though, to discuss with the partner of a candidate if she will be able to work in the host country, how she feels about raising children in a foreign environment without her usual network of personal supporters, or other concerns that relocating spouses have before moving abroad.

Based on the report, relocating spouses worry most about financial dependency on the partner. As 57 percent of those living abroad right now do not hold a paid job, global mobility and HR managers should take this concern seriously. In addition to the risk of financial dependence, there is also the issue of losing a key purpose in life. Not surprisingly, living abroad without a paid job is one of the top three reasons for unhappiness among relocating spouses. 

Other top reasons include a lack of socializing opportunities at 59 percent and the absence of a personal support network. Employers who are aware of these issues and provide the spouses of their candidates with personalized support are still rare.  

3. Distance from home country/family

Homesickness is a key concern of employees considering a global assignment, and as cliché as it may sound, it is well-founded. As the report shows, foreign assignees settle in at work quite quickly, with 85 percent feeling settled in within the first year. Regarding their private life, however, 40 percent of foreign assignees don’t feel at home abroad yet or don’t think they ever will feel at home abroad. The distance from home can be particularly hard for employees who have their spouse, dependent children, or ageing parents living back home. 

Global mobility and HR managers need to discuss the distance issue before the relocation, not only to prepare the employee, but to also get a better idea about the candidates and their mindset: Are the employee and relocating spouse emotionally prepared to deal with the distance from their own culture and family? Are they motivated to build a new social network abroad?