Global Mobility Pros Need Best Practices for Better Expat Readiness

Employee experience (EX) is no doubt a compelling factor in today’s strategic responses to the pandemic. Willis Towers Watson’s 2021 Employee Experience Survey reported more than 9 in 10 employers considered EX enhancement top priority for the Year 2022. Employees didn’t exactly thrive since the pandemic; therefore, several business leaders’ directives to prioritize EX in shaping strategies should be considered the logical path to take. 

For assignees, HR and global mobility leaders need to find methods on how to ensure better readiness and experience. Crafting strategies to tackle EX in a host country can be a little more complex as expats face challenges unknown to native employees. Though one may infer that the pandemic has negatively impacted the expat outlook, optimism seems to flourish within the community. Most expats believe that being assigned to another country was worthwhile as it provided more financial rewards.

However, that shouldn’t stop people leaders from making sure that expats adjust seamlessly in their transition period. Moving abroad is not an easy decision for assignees to make, but expats testify that by overcoming the initial transition period, new assignees will reap numerous rewards.

A study by Diane Cooper sheds light on specific support assignees need to go through the adjustment period with ease. Her study included insights of responses from 171 expatriates surveyed 30 days before leaving for their assignments and 9 times over the first nine months during their assignment. Psychological well-being, language barriers, and training were found to contribute a positive overall effect on adjusting in the first 9 months of working abroad. These signal the dire need for HR and global mobility leaders to understand key aspects in the adjustment process that need to be supported.

SHRM encourages people leaders to:

  • Provide the tools for an employee’s language fluency development in an international assignment
  • Conduct psychological screening to determine an assignee’s readiness for an international assignment
  • Provide robust support before and during the assignment
  • Set clear expectations about the employee’s position, role, and performance while giving feedback and assistance
  • Allow the employee to use a self-assessment tool prior to an international assignment to help set realistic expectations for adjusting in the host country
  • Provide a mentor in the host country who is equipped to guide and direct an assignee in the host country
  • Maintain a close connection between the expat and the central organization

5 signs an employee is ready to become an expat

Before an organization can put these strategies to practice, people leaders must identify their organization’s selection criteria for employees qualified to take an international assignment. What could an employee possibly have that makes one stand out above the rest to become a potential assignee? Lexagent, a relocation company, shares these 5 positive signs that aid management in deciding who to deploy:

  1. Employee possesses adventurous, positive, and flexible qualities

An assignee’s attitude is a determining factor in the success of the transition period in a host country. To illustrate, an employee who exhibits more openness to new cultures and environments will definitely outshine another employee who’s resistant to change. 

A Northwestern University’s School of Education and Social Policy study with 227 respondents affirms this illustration. One-hundred-ninety-three usable current and former expat responses considered flexibility and open-mindedness as important characteristics of successful expatriates.

  1. Employee exhibits cultural competence

The American Psychological Association (APA) loosely defines cultural competence as the ability to understand, appreciate and interact with people from cultures or belief systems different from one’s own. Without this ability, a candidate for an international assignment will not have an edge over his or her peers vying for the same position. Culture shock is inevitable. 

One important behavior that assignees need to look out for is politeness. For example, in France, splitting bills between the host and guest isn’t common practice – either one has to pay the full bill. Though common courtesy may seem minuscule compared to the more visible cultural differences such as food and events, a potential assignee would benefit from doing research on a host country’s behavior and gestures that are heavily influenced by its culture.

  1. Management has great communication with the assignee

Management’s ability to be in close contact with an assignee is nothing short of important. A candidate who receives communication from management proficiently and follows through with responsibilities delegated to him or her will probably land on the assignment. It’s the management’s responsibility, however, to assign and set clear goals to an expatriate. Moreover, managers must provide clarity about how long an assignment is, what role an assignee needs to play, and what an assignee has to focus on the moment they arrive in the host country.

  1. Employees have the right resources to aid in expatriation

If a company is new to expatriate relocations, it risks incurring exceptional costs. Creating relocation packages isn’t straightforward and requires a lot of work to ensure every bit of the budget is best utilized. In some cases, companies have resorted to bringing in a relocation management company to support expatriate relocation and transition.

  1. Employee’s family shows support in the moving process

The prospect of moving to another country may be an optimistic one for the employee, but family members might not share the same delight toward the idea of relocating. It is considered a logical feeling especially when family members aren’t offered the same incentives as the candidate for an assignment. 

The employee must establish honest communication with one’s family members and acknowledge their sentiments of the possibility of relocating. A company can also provide support by providing resources on better household management such as school options and career arrangements for an expatriate’s family. 

The bottom line is it isn’t easy to move abroad. Having selection criteria set in place will help management determine the best candidates for relocation and avoid any unnecessary costs in the event an assignee opts out of the assignment during the transition phase.