Thanksgiving Can Also Be a Foreign Assignee’s Holiday


Thanksgiving is a very special holiday that all Americans look forward to. It’s a break from work, quality time spent with family and loved ones, and an exercise in reflection and celebration at the same time. An attitude of gratitude more than just counters negative emotions and removes stress — it can also be a source of renewal that powers you up for the next week’s battle. Seeing and appreciating all the things that can make you grateful can make you realize how far you have come, while opening up your eyes to more positive experiences and opportunities that you can still enjoy.

As the late motivational speaker and salesman extraordinaire Jim Rohn puts it, “Learn to be thankful for what you have, while you pursue all that you want.”

Thanksgiving can also be a way by which global mobility managers can bring their assignees closer into their circle. Depending on the country, it is not unusual for executives to invite some of their assignees home or to where they will be spending the holidays. One reason is to make these foreign nationals feel more welcome. We know Thanksgiving is a family affair but why not make an exception this time?

This way, you can give them a glimpse into one of the core values that have made America great as a nation. Finally, it can be a way to make your existing bonds stronger, as the assignee is made to feel his value as a friend and a human being, and not just as corporate comrade-in-arms.

Here are a few tips — as well as gentle precautions — on how global mobility managers can make Thanksgiving a special day for their foreign workers as well:

First, they should let the assignees know beforehand that they will see a more personal aspect of themselves. Thanksgiving, after all, is that time of the year when we meet with family members. The reunion can be rowdy, sweet, and sentimental all at the same time. The assignee will see all these things play out.

Some of them who come from a more conservative culture where emotions are not easily expressed might take a bit of an adjustment. Others who used to live in countries where family takes on a clannish existence might warm up and finally lower their guard. It behooves the global mobility manager doing the inviting to their home to study up where their and the assignee’s belief systems and traditions meet, and diverge. They should then give the assignee a heads-up on what to expect.

Second, global mobility managers can use the holiday as a way to further immerse the assignees in a deeper appreciation of the American way of life. Be prepared to answer all their questions on the whys and wherefores of the celebration, the part that the early pilgrims played, and how this national day of gratitude became a cornerstone of the United States of America. During the quieter moments of the day or the weekend, the assignee will feel that they have become a part of a very special tradition.

They might even feel like they are part of the global mobility manager’s family.  As the last of their reservations melt, they might finally open up to the global mobility manager very important things they had long kept private, such as a career dream, a difficulty at work, a personal problem they might need help with. These issues can be quietly resolved during the holiday, making the assignee more confident and empowered once they all go back to work.

It’s not as difficult as you think. In the 1990s, American astronauts and Russian cosmonauts buried their rivalry temporarily to celebrate Thanksgiving together in the Mir space station. It’s a stretch to think in those terms now considering the current political climate, but you get our drift?!

Finally, make it a two-way street. The assignee’s country of origin might not celebrate American Thanksgiving but it might have their own national day of gratitude. Israel’s Feast of Tabernacles celebrates their ancestors’ escape from slavery from Egypt and march towards the promised land. China’s Moon Festival gives thanks for the harvest through abundant gift-giving and festive dining. India’s Pongal marks the beginning of the end of the country’s winter and calls for an embrace of the new season while cutting ties with the things of the past.

The global mobility manager can broaden their common ground with the assignee by discussing their own kind of Thanksgiving and why they celebrate it as a people and as a nation. In the end, the day of national gratitude can also be a way to embrace diversity. In Northern California different traditions and cultures are honored, while it enjoys being protected by the spirit of freedom, equality, and mutual respect.