Expats: Maturity is One Thing, Not Having Emotional Support is Another 

Many expats are presumed to be mature enough to fend for themselves. But maturity is one thing and not having emotional support is another. And yet, not many global mobility managers, recruiters, and other HR leaders see the problem coming their way. 

Neglect and oversight can be a road to disaster, according to Katia Vlachos, expat transition coach and author, warns in one of her popular blog titles for InterNations, “The Availability (or Lack) of Emotional Support can Make (or Break) a Foreign Assignment.”

First, let’s dig deep into what the term really means. It is more than just an encouraging reinforcement given by a positive performance rating. While the occasional after-office drinks offered by colleagues can become a prelude to a stronger kind of bonding, it may not be enough. 

Vlachos adds another layer of explanation:  emotional support creates a sense of home for the assignee who has just been uprooted in very familiar surroundings, and now must compete in a very different environment.

A “sense of home” is a combination of very strong emotions, on the conscious and subconscious level, that make the assignee feel safe, protected, and cared for. It also conveys to him that in their new promised land, they are accepted and understood. 

A sense of home or belonging gives them a respite from their worries and allows them to let their guard down. This sense of home can be represented by three things:  a location, the people, and a community. Those three factors provide clues to the global mobility manager how they can in turn create this much-needed support.

Location can pertain to temporary residence and their workplace. They can feel more welcome if their workspace and temporary have trappings that remind them of home. Not many corporate housing providers can do what California Corporate Housing does in Silicon Valley. It doesn’t disappoint guests when it comes to giving their homes unique personal touches, ranging from various accessories to accent wall paints. 

The next source of emotional support are people — a greater community consisting of their colleagues, neighbors, teachers, trainers, fellow club members, and even service providers. One should not assume that the assignee will mingle and get to know these people days or weeks on their own. Some of them might prove to be too shy or introverted. That’s why it behooves the global mobility manager to do the introduction themselves. Meet-ups, dinner parties, bowling games, soccer matches, and arts festivals are a great place to start, but the interactivity should not stop there. Emotional support means that the assignee would eventually have to develop relationships that he can tap on, both for the good and bad moments. 

One suggestion: let the global mobility manager subtly but firmly connect the assignee to the unofficial leader of these groups. Confide in the latter about the assignee’s need to cultivate a close set of friends. Then do a gentle follow-up, with the assignee and the group leader, as to how things are progressing.

Finally, quietly build a network of professionals who can help the assignee should the road to adjustment gets rougher. As noted by The Training Industry, coaches can help the assignee navigate their road map to success in this strange new land. Trainers can enhance their skills which can boost their self-confidence. Should depression and panic attacks set in, licensed therapists can just be a speed dial away.

Emotional support toughens up your assignee as they face increasing challenges. This source of inner strength keeps them grounded, counters alienation and loneliness, and can be a pillar of encouragement during their most trying moments. It can also help them bounce back from painful setbacks that could otherwise have paralyzed them.