This week’s Recommended Reading centres on corporate assignments: when a company sends an employee (and their family) overseas for a protracted period. I have a passion for supporting these families, and they were one of the key groups I had in mind when I wrote Misunderstood.
Business families often receive very little support, and kids of these families are (in my anecdotal experience) the least likely to know there is such a thing as a Third Culture Kid, and therefore the least likely to receive much needed support. These families often get far more cross-cultural support from international schools, should their children attend such schools, than from the company that sent them abroad. When they don’t have kids in an international school, many are left quite on their own. One mother told me of travelling 1.5 hours each way to attend a talk in another city because she was so desperate for any information she could get. My own family lived overseas for two years when I was a teenager due to my Dad’s job. There was no cross-cultural support for us, even though my Dad’s company tends to be more proactive than most when it comes to considering work-life balance etc.
Families don’t often need to be convinced of the need for resources and support. It’s companies (and HR departments) who most need information to demonstrate why cross-cultural preparation and support for the whole family is essential to making international assignments work – and how this affects the company’s goals (and bottom line). For this reason I’ve included a number of posts that help make these arguments. If you are considering taking a post overseas, or are looking for ways to explain to your company/HR department what your family needs, these may be helpful resources to consider.
How to Help Your Spouse Cope with Work Stress
Harvard Business Review
But first – a more general post about work stress, bringing it home, and how to deal with this in and with your partner. There are some great helpful hints in here, and some common sense which is always good to go back over. This is helpful for all kinds of families, not just expat employees!
“There are two kinds of work stress. “There’s sporadic stress, which is the result of a bad meeting or a client project gone awry,” and there’s “chronic stress, which bubbles under the surface” for a prolonged period. Chronic stress, she says, is a signal that your significant other may “be in the wrong place.””
5 new trends of relocation that are changing the face of expat assignments
ACS International Schools
A short article which gives a broad overview of how expat assignments are changing over time. The piece is a little peppy, but has some helpful stats on the bigger picture. For example:
“Prior to the 1990s, expat assignments usually lasted three to five years, according to Expat Focus. Today, assignments are much shorter, often just a year or even six months.”
Out of Sight Out of Mind: Why are Expats Forgotten?
This is a great piece about a forgotten piece of the expat employee’s experience: going back. Repatriation is something talked about a lot for expats generally, but this is the first piece I’ve seen about the specific experience of going back into the same old workplace you left a few years earlier only to find you have a rocky adjustment!
“This means that the organization considers the assignee to be on holiday. There is an implicit understanding that they will just fit straight back in when they return. When the assignee does return, their international experiences are dismissed, and the assignment is viewed as a perk. The repatriated assignee cannot describe any achievements or successes without starting the sentence, “When I was in…,” and as a result, they are not taken seriously.”
Why 40% of Overseas Assignments Fail and What You Can Do to Prevent It
Another post from LeanLight, this time a good summary of the issue of overseas postings: the fact that many are considered failures, and what companies can/should be doing about this. Of particular note: specific issues of preparation that are overlooked, the need to be informed about the family’s issues and needs, and ongoing support.
“Four in ten international assignments are judged to be a failure. And yet the number of overseas assignments continues to rise…To minimize the risk of such failure and to ensure the well-being of their employees, organizations must examine the key challenges facing expats deployed overseas, and determine the best way to prepare, support, and manage them during their time abroad.”
How can employers reduce the risks when sending employees overseas?
The above post leans heavily on this article (a press release from Punter Southall Health and Protection), which has helpful quotes explaining some of the same material. I was both shocked and not at all shocked by this statistic: “According to KMPG, only 38% of companies offer cross-cultural training to the assignees and family and 35% do not offer any cross-cultural training at all.” Shocked, because this seems like such a glaring oversight! Not shocked, because it sounds about right from my own anecdotal evidence, talking to expat families about their experiences.
The secrets to managing overseas postings for modern families? Start with the spouse
This won’t come as a surprise to most expat families: the success of an international assignment hangs largely on the family at home. If they don’t cope with the situation, it doesn’t matter how good the job is! And yet this is still a farily new consideration for most HR departments. This article gives a few thoughts and points to some research explaining why the needs of an accompanying partner are so important to a successful posting.
“Career paths are no longer choices for a single breadwinner, but compromises between couples or within families. This means there are a number of stakeholders to consider when an overseas assignment is on offer. The dynamics between the various immediate family members play a major role in whether the assignment is a success.”
Why companies supporting expatriate children have an edge
In a similar vein, this piece lays out a basic argument for the importance of companies providing effective support to employees’ families on international assignments. The lack of effective support for corporate families was a key motivator for me in writing Misunderstood. I interviewed a number of business kids who said their family received no information at all about how cultural issues might affect them. Many did not learn the term TCK until years after repatriating.
“In a recent report from EY & NetExpat, “Children Issues” was among the top 5 most common reasons for failed assignment (in addition to “Partner Not Happy,” “Job Satisfaction,” and “Employee Performance”), and 65% of the people polled cited “Other Family Issues” as being among the most common reasons for not accepting an international assignment. Expatriation failure (or early repatriation), can represent up to 2.5 times the cost of the employee’s yearly salary.”
Nurture Connections to Enhance Expatriate Success
Association for Talent Development
The post argues for the importance of relational connections to make for a successful overseas assignment, and gives practical suggestions for how HR/talent development support personnel can work to help this happen.
“Connecting expatriates to social resources is an indispensable strategy for easing their cultural adaptation and supporting their effectiveness. Talent development professionals can apply strategies during each phase of an expatriate’s experience to promote social connections…Facilitating such relationships not only helps expatriates but also can lead to greater success for the organization that is sending employees on international assignments.”
Expat Focus International Healthcare Update, June 2018
This post includes information on different trends in expatriate health insurance, including rising prices, that insurance is required for expats in some countries but not others, and general information on health care for expats from around the world.
And finally, a few research resources:
2017 Global Assignment Policies and Practices Survey (KPMG)
Corporate Insights (infographic from 98 clients of Allianz)