Cultural adjustment for expat assignments

I have seen companies who go out of their way to make employees from other countries feel at home. From finding them a place to stay or by providing information on where the employees can find food, bars and people from their home country or providing phone cards and internet access  so they can communicate with their friends and family back home. I have also seen other companies not welcome new employees, not provide any type of orientation to their new city/country and leave the new employee floundering when there are problems. Being an expat is hard enough without having the support of your company behind you

 

I knew of an employee who was meant to spend 6 months in a country on rotation but then went back to their home country every 2-3 weeks not only for the weekends but also sometimes for weeks at a time. Their behavior baffled me; it was almost as if the new place of work was a vacation place of work not an actual rotation. They said that they were happy with their team and happy with their work but missed home and as the company was paying them extra money, they thought they would use it to go home.

 

How can you expect to have productive employees if you fly them in on Sunday and expect them to be at work all ready and rearing to go on Monday morning? As intelligent and motivated as your employee may be they will still need a helping hand when it comes to getting to know the customs and language of their new county. Preparation should start months before hand preferably with a person from the new country. Useful and clear information about what is expected along with information about the country if vital. This is so the employee knows what they are getting into and has the option to change their mind. Most employees feel pressured to go through with the assignment even if they have misgivings due to not wanting to feel like they are letting the team down or that it will be looked at negatively when it comes to their performance review.

 

HR and Management must do everything they can do reduce the culture shock that an employee will feel. You can never have the employee over prepared and even so, there will be some shock involved. The employee must just have the right tools to deal with it. They must know whom they can go to when they need to ask questions, they must also not feel scared of any repercussions. Their relationship with their host manager and their home manager must be open with lots of communication in a variety of different ways.

The team that the employee is going to work with must also be informed about their new member and how that person may feel along with information about the kind of culture they are coming from.  This can only go so far. Very often the expat employee feels pressured to blend  in with the local customs even when it goes against their personal culture just they look like they want to be part of the team, and to avoid problems.

However, all of this may be in vain if the employee just does not want to be there.

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