By Tom Wells on Jul 18, 2019 5:49:00 AM
As an HR manager, you want employee relocation to be as smooth as possible. But for many employees, leaving their home country behind is a big deal. Most advice online focuses on how to structure the actual relocation package. But looking at the problem financially, it’s easy to overlook the human element of relocation. The human element is critical to the well-being of your international hires, though.
This post will take a quick look at some of the most commonly reported problems from expats.
As well as looking at expat research, we spoke to some of our students on both sides of the fence: HR managers witnessing these problems and employees suffering from them.
Below you will find a list of some of the most commonly cited problems relocated employees faced as well as some strategies to overcome this. But first, let’s take a quick look at the research.
What the research says: Each country has a unique set of problems
InterNations puts together a comprehensive annual survey that looks at the best countries for expats to live in. The 2018 edition surveyed more than 18,000 expats, covering 68 expat destinations.
One of the factors that they look at is “ease of settling in” which is based on feeling at home, friendliness, finding friends and the language barrier. This category can provide some excellent insights into why it's hard for employees to settle into a new job in a new country. It is fascinating to note that the problems expats face seem to differ greatly from country to country.
While Germany has some of the best ratings for healthcare, transport infrastructure and education, it ranks just 66th out of 68 for ease of settling in. Why? The language barrier is seen as a major hurdle as well as the locals being perceived as unfriendly, and it is also considered difficult to make local friends. Armed with this information, you can focus on mitigating these effects. One solution could be to offer language classes that focus on social activities and to include meet-ups with locals.
In Portugal, while making friends is considered much easier, expats highlighted the lack of career opportunities as a negative. This would mean that clearly identifying career goals with a new hire could be a good option to mitigate this frustration.
The takeaway is that each country is unique. So, first it is important to look at research for your host country. Spotting the positives and negatives is often counterintuitive - for you as a local, your country may seem the friendliest place in the world. But what’s important is how it is perceived by expats.
As well as each country, each employee also has a unique set of needs. Some have families, some health issues, over other unique concerns. To truly care for their well-being, it’s important to take their unique situation into account.
This is why there is no standardized model for making all relocated employees feel great. However, the following are some general but powerful tips that can help make the process feel a lot less difficult.
One of the most commonly cited problems was a general feeling of homesickness. This general sensation of missing your home country can be caused by any or all of the other factors below including culture shock, language barrier, or just generally not fitting in.
Solution: Try to source local meetups
Fortunately, there are quite a few strategies to overcome this. Research has found that meeting with other locals from the recruit’s own country is one of the most effective strategies for combating homesickness. This is because seeing people who can truly relate on a cultural and linguistic level can make them feel that if these people could overcome those challenges, then so can they.
There are many ways to find local meetups. Here are a couple:
- Check local Facebook and WhatsApp groups for expats communities in that country
- Check sites like meetup.com for local events
- Ask your employees from that country for some tips (this is usually the most effective)
Often these groups have golden nuggets of wisdom of where to find those goodies for home or where the best expat parties take place. This can make your new hires feel much more at home in their new country.
2. Culture shock
Culture shock is a real phenomenon, with a high number of expats stating they have experienced some effects of culture shock. Each country has different traditions and cultural norms and they can be hard to get used to. Culture shock can be as simple as greeting norms. Perhaps in your country it is the norm to say “hello” to people you pass in the street, whereas in your new home, this is not the case. This can make your new hires feel unwelcome. Taking the time to learn about employees’ cultures can help you understand their needs.
Solution: Mentors and cultural training
Use research and experience to create cultural materials that can help recruits adjust to the new country. What are the biggest struggles that other employees have reported? You can survey your current existing hires to find this out.
Another option is to consider assigning a mentor to check in on your new international hires periodically. While this is good practice for any new hire, remember that the challenges an expat is facing are not just work-related. Some offices use performance coaches or psychologists to check in on the mental well-being of their hires. If you don’t have those resources, a mentor scheme can be a great substitute.
3. Language barrier
This study looked at the psychological effects of moving away from home on employees and found that lack of communication was the biggest cause of anxiety and frustration among the survey participants. Without language, expats couldn’t understand daily life, make friends and adjust to their new country. The Expat Insider study also found that the language barrier was one of the most important factors for determining who easy it was for expats to settle in.
Solution: Motivational language training
Fortunately this is one of the easiest problems to positively influence. The answer? Language training. But while quite a few companies now offer language training, most focus on grammar or general language ability. However, the most successful companies know that motivation and communication ability brings the most benefits. Companies like Google, PayPal and CheckPoint already partner with Talaera and entrust us to boost employee motivation through language confidence. This can even start before their first day as it can be done 100% online giving them extra confidence before they start work.
4. Them and Us Culture
An internationally diverse office can be fantastic, and mutually beneficial for all employees. But sometimes, whether just in some departments or across the whole organization, a “them and us” culture can develop. This is where the locals tend to talk among themselves and in their own language, isolating the new recruits. If you are already experiencing some of these problems, download How To Manage Language and Cultural Diversity in The Workplace.
This can also happen, however, when many people are hired from the same country and form a group that excludes most other people. Both of these situations are detrimental to the productivity of the company and, more importantly, to employee well-being. So how to overcome this?
Solution: Culture-based team events
One way is to regularly schedule team events focused on culture. One example is team dinners. This is where each week one member of the team cooks a recipe from their home country. This is a great, casual way to get to know someone's culture while enjoying some team bonding (and tasty food): win-win!
5. Fear/Imposter syndrome
Another commonly cited problem is general fear of not being good enough. This is sometimes known as “imposter syndrome” where someone feels like they don’t deserve to be doing the job they are in. With expats, this can be more prevalent, as not only do they have to adjust to a new role, but also to a new culture.
Solution: Set clear and realistic goals
To overcome this, it is important to set clear, achievable goals. It is important to take into account the employee’s unique situation and how this may affect their performance, particularly in the first few months. There is no point setting lofty goals and then demoralizing your new hire. As an HR manager, you also help keep employees on track by assigning goals to get through company learning materials. Monitor their progress and flag any issues you notice as early as possible.
6. Hard to find friends and socialize
Almost everyone has probably found it difficult to make friends at some point. As noted in the survey, expats perceive this to be much easier in some countries than others. But it is critical for a sense of well-being. Whether your country is considered easy to make friends like Mexico or Spain, or difficult like Germany, your employees should still always feel supported. So how can you help them socialize?
Solution: All of the above!
Language training can be great for making new friends as a group learning context can forge social bonds, while local meetups and team events can also help bonding within the team. Try to encourage events that include a mix of locals, expats, and people from their own country. Remember to ask your employees how they went about making friends and keep track of their advice.
All for one, one for all!
All of these factors are intertwined. Helping with one can often alleviate the others. For example, a language barrier can lead to a feeling of homesickness and an overall sensation of culture shock. But over time, building language confidence can help social skills, performance at work, and overall feeling like they fit in.
Easing the stress of relocation benefits everyone
Helping your new hires to reduce the emotional stress related to relocation has many benefits. For the employee, it means they can thrive in their new environment and prove the company why you hired them.
As an organization, systematically working to reduce the emotional stress of international hires will increase employee retention. And with so much competition and the job market favoring applicants in tech roles, it’s never been more important to improve retention. Once you get a reputation as a company that gets relocation right, word will spread. This will encourage other top international applicants to join.
One of the simplest solutions is to invest in custom language training that you can do 100% online.
We already help boost employee satisfaction at companies like Google, PayPal and Check Point through our empowering English training. Find out why their employees are so happy with us by getting in touch.
Talaera is an online platform that provides one-on-one business English language training, anytime, anywhere, through 100% personalized lessons, HD video quality, and excellent native teachers. It's effective, engaging, and empowering, Want to know more? Let's talk!
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