Recent research by Mercer, quoted in an article by the Financial Times, suggests the number of expatriates around the world has increased by 4% since 2009 despite the economic downturn and the many cuts companies are implementing. As more and more companies send employees to live and work abroad, they need to consider a number of key factors including the importance of selecting the right location, understanding the local culture and providing the right level of cultural awareness training for relocation initiatives.
Location, Location, Location.
Current expat trends show that Western Europe and the US are the two biggest poles sending and receiving expats. London and Geneva are considered to be the best cities in Europe while New York seems to be the favourite in the US, especially for bankers. The Asia-Pacific zone is currently experiencing an important rise in expatriates, especially in Shanghai, Singapore and Hong Kong. However, there is a visible drop in expatriations in Africa due to the current political tensions and wars.
Sending employees abroad can provide significant opportunities for companies as well as for employees. For expatriations to be a success for both parties, however, companies must carefully consider the following aspects when selecting a location:
- Current market situation and opportunities
- Added value of the country and its knowledge in a specific field
- Local savoir-faire and experiences that can be shared with other parts of the business
- Expat expectations and specialisations. For example, engineers in the oil and gas industry are ideal for assignments in the Middle East or Africa
- Expat profile and situation (gender, family, etc.) which determines the level of living conditions required
The Pros and Cons of Expatriations
Attitudes towards expatriations can be very mixed. While some see the benefits, many employees are often more worried about the many challenges international assignments can present. From losing touch with the parent company to not receiving adequate cultural awareness training support, employees can sometimes fail to see the many benefits an international assignment can bring both personally and professionally.
Any company hoping to send employees abroad therefore needs to actively present international assignments as positive opportunities by emphasising their advantages. Highlighting some of the following topics can help companies avoid creating mistrust or misunderstanding with potential expatriates:
- Potential for career progression
- Increased salary or compensation in many cases
- Attractive perks and benefits for the whole family
- Development of professional skills that could lead to future promotion
- Enhanced personal experiences and potential opportunities for travel they will have abroad
- Discovery of new people, traditions, landscapes and ways of working
- Familiarise kids to a new language and culture and open their mind
- Added values and benefits that the employee will contribute to the company
Expatriates need to understand that it is the right moment to go abroad and that it will result in benefits not only for the company but for themselves.
“Fortune favours the prepared mind” – Louis Pasteur
When relocating abroad, expatriates face a whole new set of cultural norms, attitudes and behaviours. Their ability to integrate their new cultural surroundings with their own unique cultural background and expectations is paramount to the success of the expatriation.
Expatriates must have an in-depth understanding of the destination country in order to avoid culture shock and to build more profitable relationships with locals. Living and working in another country can be radically different so it’s essential that expats have the cultural skills they need to adapt to and understand the new customs and traditions they encounter to optimise the expatriation.
Cultural awareness training for relocation programmes such as Living and Working in China can vastly help to improve an expatriate’s experience and success when living and working abroad. Cultural awareness training helps to prepare future expatriates and their families for their relocation abroad and provides them with a global understanding of the culture, values, customs and traditions of the new country.
The family should also be involved in cultural awareness training, as studies show that if the family does not successfully adapt to the host country, the whole expatriation could be in jeopardy. By having expatriates and their families participate in a culture for relocation programme, companies will get the most out of the employee’s assignment, thereby increasing their ROI.
Expatriations offer a unique experience for both the expatriate employee and their family. As such the importance of cultural awareness training programmes should not be underestimated. Providing the right level of cultural support and training combined with selecting the most appropriate location and marketing the benefits of the assignment, companies can truly benefit from sending their employees to live and work abroad.
© Communicaid Group Ltd. 2011