Venturing into a new territory opens up a sea of possibilities both for an organization and the employee who receives the international assignment. For the employer, it’s an opportunity to tap into the market of the new region. For the expatriate, it’s—among other things—a chance to broaden their career and life experience by immersing themselves into a new culture.
However, while international assignments can be highly beneficial, there may also be some pitfalls along the way. Many expat assignments become unsuccessful because of a number of problems—some at the level of the individual and some at organizational level. Let’s take a look at a few of them.
1. The organization chose the wrong person for the expat job
Needless to say, it is imperative that the organization chooses the right person for the expat job. Many organizations are prone to making the wrong decision when sending someone on an international assignment. In many cases, the main reason the organization chooses the wrong person is because there is no precedent.
In other words, the organization does not have any employee with a good track record of representing it in the country of interest. Even if a candidate has been successful in assignments in other countries, it is no guarantee that they’ll be as effective in the country of interest because the cultures in countries can vary widely and successful strategies in one may not necessarily map onto another.
By learning how to adapt and cultivating cultural sensitivity, you can position yourself to be the right employee for your organization to expatriate because you can reshape your behaviors and overall lifestyle to fit and thrive in the new environment.
That notwithstanding, you should still have a strong value system that ensures consistent, effective and professional performance regardless of the social circumstances you’re thrust into. Having a healthy mix of consistency and adaptability greatly reduces your chances of expat failure.
2. The expat doesn’t receive enough support in the new country
An expat and their employer are not the only important factors that determine the success of the international assignment. The environment in which the expat is placed also play a vital role in expat failure. This is especially true with regard to the host sponsor whose role is offering support to the expat to help them acclimatize to the new environment on a professional, social and domestic level.
In the absence of such support, things begin to quickly fall apart. For instance, an expat may easily become overwhelmed with work schedules to the expense of their personal affairs, which before long will begin to negatively impact the expat’s performance at the workplace.
3. The expat’s connections to their home county are completely cut off
Even as they work hard to succeed in the new country, completely severing their meaningful connections to their country of origin is detrimental to the success of an expat. The more isolated an expat feels, the more likely they are to reject their new environment.
It is for this reasons that organizations with successful expatriate programs make sure that they keep their expats „in the loop“ about important things that happen back home.
In addition to helping expats develop a balanced view of their role in the global agenda of their employer, maintaining their connection with their home country also ensures that they are prepared in the event that they need to be repatriated when their assignment comes to a conclusion.
4. Little to no communication about domestic issues the expat faces following their relocation
One of the main reasons for expat failure are family issues. Unfortunately, this is also among the hardest problems to diagnose because employees are usually reluctant to open up about domestic issues with their employer. They might fear that doing so would make them appear incompetent and therefore choose to keep domestic difficulties to themselves even when they begin to have a huge negative impact on their performance in the workplace.
This pitfall is best avoided by fostering open and frequent communication that allows the organization to know how the family is coping with their new environment. These lines of communication should be established before relocation happens.
It all comes down to poor planning
Ideally, an expat’s international assignment should be meticulously planned and the plan religiously implemented. However, some variables are inevitably overlooked and the reality often fails to match the projections. But that is no reason to neglect taking the time to prepare, both as an individual and an organization.
Only through careful preparation can the above problems be avoided to improve an expats chances of success.