Overseas Assignments: How To Prepare Employees

Heather Darby
Momentous Relocation
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Every year, vast sums of money are spent on international work assignments. Companies across the globe invest hundreds of thousands in everything from shipping to accommodation, in the hopes of seeing international candidates flourish.

The allure is understandable.

Instead of hiring a new domestic employee, you internally move an already tried-and-tested worker. Somebody who can jump right in and support progress from day one; somebody who you know has the skills to do the job and do it well. However, while it might sound good on paper, these international work projects aren’t always successful.

As many as 40% of overseas work assignments are dubbed failures — an extraordinarily high figure. This means businesses are sinking huge amounts of cash into doomed projects, but what is causing these major issues in the corporate relocation world?

A lack of preparation is almost always the deciding factor. When an employee moves without being fully prepared for their new role, they are immediately left on the back foot, struggling to achieve success while adapting to their new world. It’s a worryingly common occurrence, but also a completely avoidable one.

Once you identify the core issues that could create barriers to success, you can work to train employees to operate within their new, foreign working conditions. Do this and you’re far more likely to fall on the side of that 60% success rate than the 40% that are failing.

So, what steps can you take to prepare assignees?

Deconstruction of Language Barriers

87% of HR managers agree that being able to speak a second language makes you a more viable international candidate — and it’s not difficult to understand why.

Communication is the foundation on which strong management and career success are built. Without the ability to communicate with individuals both internally and externally, an assignee has very little chance of performing at their best.

Certain things you can pick up on the job. Other messages can be conveyed by a translator. But for the best working experience, you need to be sending somebody overseas that can have a informative conversation with anyone, at any point.

Preparation for overseas work should start with the dismantling of language barriers and opening of all available channels of communication for prospective assignees. Fluency is not necessarily a requirement for early days on the job; simply enough to allow them to support themselves and not waste time having to communicate via third parties or by being unable to convey information altogether.

Preparation Through Cultural Integration

Workplace culture around the world differs a huge amount.

Depending on where you are in the world, hand gestures and body language can mean totally different things, small talk can be seen as vital or a waste of time, and absent-minded actions that would normally go unnoticed can have disastrous consequences.

Being ignorant to the culture and customs of the workplace can result in difficulties ranging from breaking relationships to a complete communication breakdown. 48% of HRs involved in the recruiting and managing of overseas candidates said that cultural barriers were a major problem for overseas assignees. The ability to successfully integrate with a working culture directly impacts the success of the employee. Therefore, it should be a primary target of any preparation process.

The answer to this problem is education. Assignees should be provided with training in how to work in their new overseas environment before they ever even enter it. This can be done through written and video resources, classes and conferences, and meeting members of their new team face-to-face to discuss culture, etiquette and how to get work done.

If an assignee knows how to operate in their new place of work before they start, then they are far less likely to fall behind or fail.

Guidance For Personal Wellbeing and Settling In

Up to 70% of failed relocation projects can be put down to one thing: families failing to settle in.

Despite their dedication to work, for most employees, family comes first. Without a stable home life, an overseas assignment can crumble very quickly. Preparations for moving should not just focus on the aspects of work that your candidate will be involved with. Time and resources should also be invested in ensuring they and their families are ready for the lifestyle changes they are about to face.

This can be done in two ways:

Educational: Ensure everyone involved in the move is educated on what life will be like prior to their relocation. Provide materials that explain cultural practices, offer language education to members of the family and give them the opportunity to talk to locals. To maximise potential success, you can even send them on a pre-move trip to get them better acquainted with the area — without the looming stress of an international move.

Structural: Providing a foundation on which an employee and their family can begin their new life is important. This includes help to integrate them with the local community and assisting them in sorting items and aspects crucial in day-to-day life, such as banking, transport, bills and utilities, schools, healthcare, etc.

Failure to prepare for the personal trials of working abroad can lead to disastrous results. Always make sure it’s a part of your employee’s international assignment preparation process.

About Heather Darby

Heather Darby of Momentous Relocation

Heather Darby is an expert in moving people overseas. Through her international moving company Gerson Relocation, Heather has helped moved hundreds of people across the globe.

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