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Companies must send employees overseas in today's globalized and intertwined economies. It is not surprising that almost eight out of ten businesses send their professionals to overseas work sites in order to remain competitive. Current research on the topic, however, indicate that ten percent of expatriates fail in their overseas assignments. An surprising result given that an expatriate package will cost a business anything from $300,000 to $1,000,000 per year, making it one of the organization's largest costs on anybody other than the CEO (DeZube, n.d.). For all the expenses, companies often do not get their money’s worth. Per Chew (2004), 10% to 20% of U.S managers fail at the assignments because of job dissatisfaction or their inability to adjust to the foreign country. Even then, of the managers who finish their overseas assignment almost one-third does not perform to the expectations of the organization. Perhaps the most troubling outcomes, is that one-fourth of the expatriates who do complete their assignments end up leaving the company within a short period of returning. Oftentimes these same expatriates end up working for a competitor.
To succeed in assigning executives to overseas positions there must be a plan in place, training for the expatriate and resources for them as well as their families. It is easy to base all outcomes off the person being sent to do the job overseas, but the problem is that there are always unexpected complications. The expatriate’s family is an example of a huge variable that is often overlooked by companies when assigning a manager to an overseas position. Suppose the manager is married and has school-age children. If the family decides to stay behind, it would be in the company’s best interest to provide some sort of leave for the expatriate. Every so many pre-decided months the expatriate gets to come home to reunite with his family. Even then, this does no guarantee that the expatriate will not quit the assignment once he has returned but it at least addresses job burnout. It also serves as a way for the expatriate to keep in touch with the lifestyle and culture of his home country, which prevents a problem we will address later.
While the expatriate is overseas, the company can and should have a person to serve as a guide in the new country. Someone from the company that resides in this country, or a national who can communicate efficiently with the expatriate. This person(s) will serve as a bridge into the new country and culture for the expatriate. This mitigates fear and the overwhelming pressure of having to produce results in a place where he/she knows very little about how business is conducted. This brings up an excellent point: “How is business conducted in this new setting?” The company could have sorts of familiarization program for expatriates before they leave the country for their new assignment for them to learn about a new land they will end up in. Customs, culture, religion, and even diet, are all prime examples of essential topics to be discussed in this programs.
Now in the case the expatriate does go overseas with his family, the company should strive to improve the conditions for his family in any way. This includes finding information regarding jobs and schooling for the expatriate’s family. All these aspects of transferring someone can create a large amount of stress rendering the expat unfit for duty because he must deal with issues that affect his family which in turn directly affect him. One option to alleviate the problems listed above is to have a liaison within the company that can arrange simple things like guiding the new expat and his family around the new country for necessities such as schooling for the children. All throughout this process, that same liaison can serve as a coping guide for the new climate.
Another issue company’s face is that often, even if the employee completes his tour he/she is then unable to operate back in his home country, at least not right away. Earlier it was mentioned that having the employee come home every so often is a good way to mitigate problems regarding re-entry to the home country. To this end, having a re-entry program for expats could be considered a necessity for the continuation of a successful overseas tour program within an organization.
For all these steps to take place, a department within the organization must provide the guidance throughout the tours. Oftentimes, the HR department within organizations handles this, and this is an acceptable choice. However, the HR department is also oftentimes kept away from part taking in expatriation therefore lacking experience in the matter. As a starting point, the company can assign and rotate the HR department through overseas duties for them to gather knowledge and experience in conducting such aspects of the business. Make no mistake, this will be expensive for the company, just nowhere nearly as expensive as sending out employees to fail on their duties in order countries because no one prepared them.
Companies that manage their expatriates properly come from all spectrums of business however, they all have certain things in common. For example, some firms assign overseas duties to get rid of them. Other companies send people abroad to reward them. However, the companies that manage their expatriate processes well send their people overseas because they can generate and transfer knowledge and because they can further develop their leadership skills abroad. Furthermore, successful companies assign expats because they are individuals who have the technical expertise and have indicate that they can handle diversity and an ability to collaborate with culturally different people. In other words, they assign members whose technical skills are at least matched, but oftentimes exceeded by their cross-cultural skills. Lastly, successful companies conclude the assignments abroad with a deliberate process for the returning employees. It is crucial to guide returning employees through their career so that they can apply experience gained overseas in improving the company’s productivity. Otherwise, the worker could end up feeling out of place and pace, which is a major cause of job turnover for returning employees.
Governments have been able to implement rules and regulations governing the issue of expatriations. Since there are differences in various government approaches on the issue, companies have found it difficult universally applying their guidelines o subsidiaries in different countries. Thus, companies must put into consideration the political and legal climate of the country before assigning expatriate employees. With this in mind, any company moving their members to a foreign country should prepare them to face the changes in political and legal climate.
Although technological advancement and the emergence of internet search have availed a lot of information that are useful for expatriates moving overseas, the need to formulate and implement policies on how to integrate personnel moving into new working environments overseas have been considered a necessity. Governments have established guidelines alongside migration policies that govern the operation of expatriates from foreign nations (Carpenter & Dunung, 2011). Therefore, managers can depend on these guidelines as they settle and familiarize with a new working environment and work culture. Moreover, information on the internet can be used to find out the culture and work ethics of the people in this new environment. Although companies are keen on the development of global leaders and transmission of knowledge and skills across their regions of operations, it is unbelievable that they end up sending culturally illiterate individuals.
Currently, companies consider it a matter of urgency to evaluate personnel they send overseas using other attributes other than the immediate business problem. Expatriates, on the other hand, must have a thorough understanding of the tasks they are going to undertake; the task rationale, and how their leadership skills match the cultural environment of their new regions. Evaluation of such information before accepting package not only helps the experts to adapt to understand their new roles but also adapt to the new work and cultural environment (Andresen, Biemann & Pattie, 2015). Organizations that succeed in achieving their primary objectives of sending expatriates abroad always access the cultural sensitivity of such individuals.
Most managers fail to accomplish their oversea duties due to the presence of undefined relationships, unclear expectations, and unfamiliar routines. Moreover, the effects of different political environment, legislative requirements, and unfamiliar customs hinder their operations. Therefore, organizations must make their expatriates understand their roles and expectation from the company, family, and the host country so that they can adjust psychologically for the task. It is because an expatriate assignment not only affects an employee but also his/her family, relations, and other social ties.
Other than an overall assessment of an expatriate employee and the international role being assigned, companies must develop a rigorous selection process that would merge professional, cultural, and social competencies together to bring better outcomes. Moreover, it will help in the selection of locals who help in integrating such employees into the community (Bonache & Noethen, 2014).
Another issue is the understanding of a given country’s labor relations. Although each organization may have its labor structure, different countries have different labor laws that may affect the conduct of employees within a given sector. Countries like Japan, for instance, embrace a cooperative relationship between management and workers unions while others like the USA have an antagonistic relationship between the two parties (Andresen, Biemann & Pattie, 2015). Government regulations on labor practices also differ across nations. Since labor issues form part of the political and work environments, companies must formulate strategies geared to address the labor relation issues as expert employees embark on their assignments in the subsidiary companies overseas (Carpenter & Dunung, 2011). For instance, the number of working hours and take on leisure activities differs across nations. Thus, a company’s take on support network must consider the legal aspects as well. Pre-departure orientations should be utilized by companies to figure out possible issues that may be encountered by expatriate employees in conducting their assignments. At this point, special issues concerning family, the host country, or the nature of the assignment can be solved early enough.
It is necessary to choose a local who understands not only the culture but also government regulations as far as labor laws are concerned. Since expatriation goes beyond abilities, skills, and knowledge, companies should also check global guidelines on expatriation to ensure there are smooth transition and high success rates. Thus, formulation of simple and direct expatriation policies that applies to both the main Company and its subsidiaries can help in ensuring that the company objectives are consistent (Andresen, Biemann & Pattie, 2015).
Another way of achieving high success rates in expatriate assignments is the use adoption of strategies that may bring the expatriate employee and local staff together. Although companies try to link their employees with local staff, expatriate employees tend to associate with people of their ranks. To bring the local staff and the expatriate together, organizations should assign them local staff members who may act as their mentors. Mentors will help them in tackling both the work and non- work related issues during the assignment. Since mentorship is not part of the formal job responsibilities, companies must come up with structures of motivation for the local staff who are up to the task. Motivating the local staff will help in improving their commitment and involvement on inducting the expatriate employee (Bonache & Noethen, 2014). Consequently, it will assist in boosting the morale of the expatriates as they undertake their assignments overseas. Besides, other practices like pairing the expatriate employee with local staff can prove to be a win-win strategy for the local staff and expatriate.
It is necessary for human resource managers to look beyond the candidate characteristics and evaluate the available oversea positions before selecting the best candidates for the post (Chew, 2004). To maximize the chances of success in taking oversea assignments, overseas assignment decision makers, and human resource professionals should devise mechanisms that will match personal characteristics, professional qualification, cultural sensitivity, and the organization expectations. Through such strategies, they may find it easy to offer real support to expatriate employees and their families during and after the assignment.
Although managers and experts may encounter many pitfalls in their journey to accomplish international assignments, such avenues can prove to be the most exciting experiences. Challenges of transition from one culture and business environment to another and coping with the legislative and legal requirements put in place may be some of the reasons that account for low success rates among companies and their managers. However, evaluation of individuals’ cultural sensitivity and their ability to deliver the set targets in a multicultural environment is very necessary.
Companies need to consider balancing the personal needs and organizational needs when assigning people roles overseas. Moreover, organizations must put down proper plans that will enable the workforce to realize a work-life balance, especially now that they move across the borders and tend to detach from the families. With the right planning put in place, organizations can ensure that their staff sent on oversea duties can take up the challenge, adapt to the environment, cultural, political, and work environment changes, and accomplish their missions. In this manner, experts sent oversea assignments would be able to have professional and personal development and steer organizations to a positive direction.
Andresen, M., Biemann, T., & Pattie, M. W. (2015). What makes them move abroad? Reviewing and exploring differences between self-initiated and assigned expatriation. The International Journal of Human Resource Management, 26(7), 932-947.
Bonache, J., & Noethen, D. (2014). The impact of individual performance on organizational success and its implications for the management of expatriates. The International Journal of Human Resource Management, 25(14), 1960-1977.
Carpenter, M. A., & Dunung, S. P. (2011). International Business. Saylor Foundation.
Chew, J. (2004). Managing MNC Expatriates through Crises: A Challenge for International Human Resource Management, Research and Practice in Human Resource Management, 12(2), 1-30.
DeZube, D. (n.d.). What's Inside an International Compensation Package? Retrieved from https://www.monster.com/career-advice/article/international-compensation
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