International assignments can be exciting and rewarding opportunities for both employees and employers. These assignments provide individuals with the chance to develop personally and professionally while contributing to the growth of the company in a global context. However, these assignments can also be costly and challenging, with a significant number of them resulting in failure. As an HR professional, it is crucial to ensure that employees are well-prepared for international assignments to maximize their success. In this article, we will explore various tips and strategies for HR professionals to effectively prepare employees for international assignments and help them thrive in their new roles.
Before sending an employee on an international assignment, it is essential to evaluate the need for such an assignment and justify the associated costs. HR professionals should work closely with the hiring managers and business leaders to determine if there is a genuine need for an international assignment. Consider factors such as the availability of local hires, the individual’s skillset and mindset, and the potential benefits the overseas experience can bring to the company upon the employee’s return. By conducting a thorough analysis and making a strong business case, HR professionals can ensure that international assignments are undertaken for valid reasons and have a higher chance of success.
When selecting employees for international assignments, HR professionals must consider the personal circumstances of the individuals involved. Factors such as the employee’s sexual orientation, religious beliefs, and family situation can significantly impact their experience in a foreign country. For example, sending an LGBTQ individual to a conservative Muslim country may require extra support and consideration. Similarly, the employee’s partner and family should be taken into account, as certain destinations may pose risks or challenges for them. HR professionals should proactively address these issues and provide the necessary support to ensure the well-being and success of the employee and their family.
One of the key factors contributing to the failure of international assignments is the mismatched expectations of employees. It is crucial to prepare employees for the realities of living and working in a foreign country, rather than presenting an idealized or glamorous image. HR professionals should provide comprehensive information about the cultural differences, potential challenges, and the need for adaptation. By setting realistic expectations and addressing potential issues upfront, employees will be better equipped to handle the transition and thrive in their new environment.
Cultural immersion is a critical aspect of any international assignment. HR professionals should encourage employees to engage in cross-cultural training programs before embarking on their assignments. These programs help individuals understand their own biases, develop cultural intelligence, and gain insights into the customs, traditions, and working styles of the host country. Additionally, employees can supplement their training by reading literature, newspapers, and blogs from the destination country, listening to podcasts, and watching movies to familiarize themselves with the local culture. By investing in cultural immersion preparation, HR professionals can ensure that employees are better equipped to navigate the challenges of working in a different cultural context.
Having a mentor can significantly enhance the success of an international assignment. HR professionals should establish mentoring schemes that pair experienced expatriates or local colleagues with employees going on international assignments. Ideally, employees should have both a mentor in the host country and one in their home country. Mentors can provide guidance on various aspects, such as management styles, hierarchy, gender issues, meeting etiquette, and decision-making processes. They serve as a valuable sounding board for the expatriate, offering support and advice when challenges arise. By fostering mentoring relationships, HR professionals can help employees navigate the complexities of their international assignments more effectively.
A positive attitude is crucial for the success of international assignments. HR professionals can help employees develop this mindset by providing them with resources and guidance. Simple memos and pointers can go a long way in helping employees navigate difficult times. It is essential to encourage employees not to compare their home culture with the new one and to understand that different does not mean wrong. HR professionals should emphasize the importance of embracing different approaches to time management, communication, and problem-solving. By fostering a positive attitude, HR professionals can help employees overcome culture shock and adapt more effectively to their new environment.
Although English may be the international language of business, HR professionals should encourage employees to learn the local language of the host country. Even a basic conversational command of the language can significantly enhance integration into the local society and facilitate smoother communication. Language training is not only beneficial for employees but also for their spouses and dependents who may face challenges in adjusting to the new culture. By providing language training opportunities, HR professionals can support the overall success and well-being of employees and their families during international assignments.
Maintaining regular and effective communication with employees during their international assignments is crucial. HR professionals should establish formal reporting mechanisms to stay updated on the progress of the assignment and address any issues promptly. Regular check-ins provide an opportunity to share experiences, learnings, and valuable insights gathered during the assignment. HR professionals should encourage employees to participate in knowledge-sharing activities such as blogging, video conferences, and presentations to share their experiences with colleagues in the home office. By facilitating communication, HR professionals can leverage the knowledge gained from international assignments for the benefit of the entire organization.
Culture shock is a common phenomenon experienced by individuals on international assignments. HR professionals should acknowledge the challenges associated with culture shock and provide support mechanisms to help employees cope with it. Encouraging the establishment of a network of friends, both expats and locals, can help employees combat feelings of isolation and loneliness. Engaging in activities that allow employees and their families to explore the local culture, such as visiting markets, trying local cuisine, and participating in cultural events, can also alleviate culture shock. HR professionals should provide resources and assistance to help employees navigate culture shock effectively and create a positive experience during their international assignments.
The end of an international assignment is not the end of the journey for employees and HR professionals. It is crucial to recognize that reintegration into the home office can be just as challenging as the initial assignment. HR professionals should start preparations for reintegration several months before the employee’s return. This includes assessing the new skills and perspectives gained during the international assignment and identifying suitable opportunities for further growth and development within the organization. By proactively addressing the reintegration process, HR professionals can retain valuable talent and leverage the unique experiences and insights gained from international assignments.
Measuring the success of international assignments is essential for HR professionals to evaluate the effectiveness of their programs and make necessary adjustments. HR professionals should establish clear performance indicators and evaluation criteria for international assignments. Regular performance reviews should be conducted to assess the employee’s achievements, identify areas for improvement, and provide constructive feedback. Additionally, HR professionals should track and analyze retention data to understand the factors contributing to the successful repatriation of employees. By measuring success and retention rates, HR professionals can continuously enhance their international assignment programs and ensure the long-term success of employees and the organization as a whole.
Preparing employees for international assignments is a multifaceted task that requires careful planning, support, and ongoing communication. HR professionals play a crucial role in ensuring the success of these assignments by making a strong business case, considering individual circumstances, managing expectations, providing cultural immersion programs, arranging mentoring schemes, encouraging a positive attitude, offering language training, maintaining focused communication, supporting employees through culture shock, and preparing for reintegration. By implementing these strategies, HR professionals can help employees thrive in their international assignments, contribute to the growth of the organization, and foster a global mindset within the company.
Remember, the success of international assignments ultimately depends on the comprehensive support provided by HR professionals and the commitment of the organization to invest in the development and well-being of its employees in a global context. With the right preparation and support, international assignments can be transformative experiences that benefit both employees and organizations alike.
Additional Information: HR professionals should also consider providing resources and support for employees’ families, such as tax calculators and sensitive document storage for easy collaboration and assignment tracking while in the host country.