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How to help employees relocate to a foreign country

In today’s global economy, big businesses routinely send employees abroad to work on short-term or long-term projects. On the face of it, what’s not to like about living in a new country: learning a new language, becoming immersed in a new culture, and getting to know a whole bunch of new people.

Unfortunately, what began as an exciting adventure may soon turn sour once real life kicks in.

Culture shock is a very real phenomenon. Relocating to a new country can often be a deeply traumatic experience for the employee and their family. Expatriates have to cope with a different culture, possibly learning a new language, and dealing with separation from friends and family. Because of the stress involved in overseas placements, a large percentage of them fail.

Teething problems are not always apparent and it is only when things start to go badly wrong that the employee’s performance is affected. Unless steps are taken to deal with the problem, the overseas posting may end up failing, which will cost the business a lot of money. In all cases, prevention is better than cure. Instead of fire-fighting when things go awry, it is more cost effective to provide plenty of support for the employee and their family in the early days before and after they relocate to a new country. Organising a visa and finding temporary accommodation is not always enough.

A Reality Check

Be honest about the realities of an overseas placement. Just because the country is renowned for its beaches and great weather, it doesn’t mean that living there is a piece of cake. Discuss the pros and cons of the move with the employee and his or her family, so they are fully aware of the challenges they face. If you have experienced expatriates working for the company, ask them to talk to the employee, so they can hear all about life on the front line straight from the horse’s mouth.

Psychological Assessments

A lot of financial investment goes into relocating employees, so it is wise to undertake psychological assessments before the posting takes place. This will flag up any potential problems before anything concrete happens.

Keep the Lines of Communication Open

Don’t just hand over an airline ticket and leave your employees to get on with it. Staff will need extra support in the early days, or at least until they have settled in at their new job. Maintain regular contact with expatriate employees, preferably via telephone or video chat, as email only tells half the story.

Provide Support for Dependents

Many employees take their family with them when they relocate. If the spouse or partner has left a good job, this can cause problems, especially if the terms of their visa mean they are not eligible to work. If an employee’s partner is not happy, it will impact on the success of the posting, so provide plenty of support for the whole family.

Don’t forget to offer support to your employees when they finally return home from an overseas placement – they will need just as much assistance on the return journey.