Things to Consider When Contemplating an International Relocation

 In Business

Today’s global economy ensures that the majority of the world’s businesspeople deal internationally at some point in their careers. Whether we negotiate pricing, partner with foreign distributors, supervise overseas production, manage an international salesforce or just handle worldwide customer service calls, there’s little doubt that someday most of us will be facing customs and languages and work habits that differ greatly from the ones to which we’re familiar. Technological tools like video conferencing and online financial transfer services (i.e., PayPal), as well as cheaper travel options and even standard mobile phones, mean we are connected in ways that weren’t previously possible. And when considered in this light, it’s somewhat amazing that there is still a demand for long-term expatriate assignments. After all, why move employees to other countries when a lot of the work can now be done just as well from afar? But notwithstanding the fact that it might be more practical (both financially and logistically) to keep employees local, there is demand for relocating personnel internationally. Not only do staff members view such assignments as prestigious rewards for high caliber and loyal work, but there is still much to be said for having people (literally) “in the trenches” and not just “remotely plugged in.” Thus, although the demand might not be as large as it used to be, it’s still enough to motivate companies with the necessary capital and opportunities to think about when and how to send their workers overseas. Before you contemplate offering an expatriate assignment (or taking one), consider the following:

Expertise Does Not Guarantee Success

Just because someone could do a job, it doesn’t mean he or she can. We all know that the qualifications for any job often far surpass mere experience. And it is extremely important to consider those attributes when determining if and when a person should move abroad to work. More so than the level of his or her expertise, how well a person manages daily pressures, communicates and empathizes all better predict success in an international location. Unlike a traditional position in a home country, working well abroad requires fitting in and accepting differences. It requires patience to assimilate and a willingness to adapt and change and learn. Expatriates have to be resilient, ambitious and creative. In short, they have to be a lot more than an expert on a particular subject.

Expatriates Rarely Travel Without Baggage

If there’s one time that personal circumstances have a place in a job interview, it’s during the one for an expatriate assignment. Moving abroad is a family affair. Even if an employee doesn’t have a spouse and kids, he or she probably has at least one familial tie that will factor in to how well the acclimation process in the new country goes. Putting a country border and/or an ocean between loved ones is a lot different than moving them locally. And if an employee does have a family, their acclimation will be just as important to the success of the assignment as his or hers. If a spouse or child has difficulty with the move, the employee will probably have difficulty, too. Companies and employees, both, should carefully ponder how they will support family members with the transition. Questions that fully expose and explore the motivations for, as well as the thoughts and attitudes about, moving, should be asked, not only of employees, but of their family members, too. Just as marketers use a good quantitative research design to uncover the incentives for consumer behavior, key decision makers must strive to explore the reasons employees and their families might want an international assignment. They must confirm that expectations will match realities; it’s the only way to fully assess whether the outcome of a move even has the potential for success!

A Repatriation Plan is Critical

International job assignments are designed to expand a company’s intellectual capital and provide loyal, passionate and qualified employees the opportunity to expand their own experiences and skill sets, too. But if an employee ends up being unhappy at the end of his or her assignment just because a company neglects to find and offer a legitimate position to return to in the home country, then the majority of the resources used on the experience is wasted. Before contracts are signed, companies should think about (and employees must demand) that there are established guidelines that explain how and when the employee will return home and the type of guaranteed position that he or she will be offered to fill. This ensures that employees use the skills they’ve gained for the company’s (and their own) benefit. Leaving it to chance risks shuffling a disappointed employee from country to country, or worse, returning him or her to a meaningless position where valuable expertise is lost.

International job assignments are big decisions for companies and employees alike, affecting more than bottom lines. To be successful, everyone involved must gain and share knowledge that otherwise might never have been encountered or distributed. Do your homework to make sure the opportunity is right for everyone!

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