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Staff Relocation Practices and Issues
One of the most important considerations for companies as they establish themselves internationally is the team that they assemble to manage the offices abroad. While expatriation can be very costly, the benefits of this investment can be far-reaching. However, in order for these benefits to be realized, solid international human resource practices must be implemented.
There are three fundamental phases to the expatriation process: the pre-departure phase, the during assignment phase, and the repatriation phase.
This phase includes the selection of the expatriate and the preparation of the selected individual. While technical expertise is a major factor in determining a candidate for the position, it is not enough to prove that an individual has an appropriate skill-set for the international role. Below are some of the attributes that must be considered during the expatriate selection phase:
- Appreciation for Cultural Differences. A candidate needs to display cultural empathy and have an appreciation for the different forces under which he/she will work in the new environment.
- Leadership Skills. As the employee will be far removed from the home office, they will need to possess a sense of leadership and the ability to make decisions with minimal feedback from peers.
- Other Important Qualities include:
- Interpersonal skills
- Foreign language proficiency
- Adaptability and flexibility
- Tolerance for ambiguity
The pre-departure phase also involves preparation. Key aspects to making sure an employee is properly prepared to represent the firm abroad include:
- Briefing the candidate on the role they will undertake.
- Providing general information about the the new location to which they will be moving, including cultural values, socio-economic climate, social norms, etc.
- Offer cross-cultural training to ensure that the expatriate’s personal and business conduct is appropriate and respectful.
- Encourage foreign language training to develop skills and fluency to facilitate easier communication, relationships and transition for the expatriate and his/her family.
- Facilitate the transition for the family because the happiness of the family is an important factor in the professional success of the expatriate.
As mentioned earlier, the professional success of the expatriate goes beyond the technical expertise.
During Assignment Phase
This phase requires that the expatriate and his/her family are supported during their international assignment so that they do not feel alienated and disconnected from the home office. Keeping lines of communication open with the head office will help provide support, whether it is holding recurring video meetings, visiting the home office, executives visiting the international offices, etc. It is also crucial for the HR team to be in contact with families to ensure that they are successfully adjusting. Day-to-day activities, while taken for granted, can become very difficult and frustrating in an unfamiliar setting.
This phase should not be overlooked, as it is as important as expatriation. The skills learned overseas can be very valuable to the company when the individual returns to the home office. To ensure that the benefit is realized and to avoid having the expatriate conclude that there is no suitable role for them and having them seek employment elsewhere, the following are important considerations:
- Re-connect to the home office: While on the international assignment, the expatriate might lose touch with the home office. Make an effort to keep expatriates in the loop in terms of company changes.
- Place value on international experience: Expatriates need to feel that their experience is a beneficial move professionally. If the expatriate sense that the company does not value their experience, it may hurt employee morale and could lead to higher employee turnover.
- Be aware of reverse culture shock: The expatriates and their families may experience a cultural shock when returning to the home country. Just as support was needed with the transition to the foreign country, support is also necessary as the family settles in to the original home country. HR needs to help alleviate this so that others don’t become reluctant to assume international assignments.
The repatriation process can be difficult and if it does not go well, it could discourage others from pursuing international assignments.
While there is a high cost to expatriation, it is an investment that can reap great rewards for firms and their employees in the globalized world. However, the benefits of this investment will only be realized if all the phases of expatriation mentioned above are adhered to.
For more information on expatriation, please refer to the links below: